June 7, 2014

New recreation centers, dog park among $192.5 million in Arlington bond proposals

Projects being reviewed by the City Council include $25 million for a new recreation/aquatic center in southeast Arlington.

Two new recreation centers, a second dog park and numerous road rebuilding projects are among $192.5 million in proposed projects that Arlington could ask voters to approve this fall.

The 19-member Citizens Bond Committee submitted its list of recommendations to the City Council on May 27 for the high-priority public works, parks, fire and library projects it believes should be included in the anticipated November bond election.

After reviewing $409 million worth of needed infrastructure improvements and amenities, the Citizens Bond Committee recommended $118 million for public works, $65.7 million for parks, $8.4 million for the Fire Department and $395,000 for the libraries.

“They worked really hard. They suggested things that the entire city will benefit from,” Mayor Robert Cluck said.

The council will begin drafting its own list of recommendations for voter consideration this month. If the total amount were approved, it would not affect the city’s property tax rate.

Committee Chairman Cliff Mycoskie said that “everything was considered,” adding that committee members toured city facilities, parks and streets proposed for either renovation or rebuilding. “We looked at everything really hard.”

The council is already discussing the possibility of extending the proposed four-year bond program to a fifth year. That would allow the city to issue an additional $46 million in debt to tackle a few more projects that didn’t make the bond committee’s list.

Arlington is still working to wrap up about $140 million in projects approved by voters in the 2008 bond election.

“There are so many needs in the community. There are projects that won’t get done,” Cluck said. “You have to draw the line somewhere.”

Signature senior center

One proposal that appears high on some council members’ wish list is a signature senior recreation center like those in Grand Prairie, Euless and other surrounding cities.

“There’s a lot of interest in a senior center. It wasn’t chosen. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen,” Cluck said, adding that he didn’t know how much such a project would cost or where it might be located.

A center might include an indoor walking track, exercise equipment, movie and craft rooms, and dining and social areas designed for the 55-and-up crowd.

“I get calls from constituents constantly saying ‘We would like to have a place.’ There is an outcry,” said District 4 Councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon, one of the proponents of a new senior center.

Wilemon envisions a centrally located center where older residents can feel comfortable meeting with others their age to exercise, play games and attend lectures and musical performance

“I see this as a place where you can be at 6 a.m. and congregate. It’s social,” said Wilemon, who represents west Arlington. “You are not at home or isolated. You are not intimidated. You don’t feel like you have to go to a country club or private club. This would be citywide. This brings the community together. I’m adamant about it.”

Arlington has two senior centers — the Eunice Activity Center, 1000 Eunice St., and the Senior Recreation Center at New York Avenue, 2015 Craig Hanking Drive.

Linda Dunnigan, 67, was among women playing bingo at the New York center recently who said they would also support a new senior center. Dunnigan said she’s seen membership decline significantly the past few years as newer senior centers with more amenities, opened in surrounding communities.

“Unless you want to play board games, we don’t have anything,” Dunnigan said.

Dunnigan and other bingo players said the center also doesn’t offer activities, such as pool tables or dart games, that might attract men.

She did say that the New York center was organizing trips both locally and abroad, but that not all residents can participate.

“What our center has started to do is promote more travel. A lot of people can’t do it or can’t afford it,” Dunnigan said.

Balancing act

Four recreation centers were among $142 million worth of parks and recreation projects that the Citizens Bond Committee considered.

The committee selected a $25 million recreation/aquatic center for southeast Arlington, the only part of town that doesn’t have such a facility or a public swimming pool, and the $25.2 million combined recreation center and library branch in east Arlington. That new facility would replace the Hugh Smith Recreation Center, which was built more than 50 year ago, and the East Branch Library, which opened in the 1970s and is the oldest and busiest of the city’s branch libraries.

The combined facility, if approved, is expected to be built at Bob Cooke Park.

Mycoskie said the committee liked the other two proposals — a $25 million senior recreation center and a $40 million multigenerational recreation center — but had to consider other infrastructure needs such as streets, sidewalks and fire stations.

“We all think the senior center is awesome and we would love to do it. But those two projects — Hugh Smith and southeast center — are $50 million. That’s a quarter of our entire $190 million budget,” Mycoskie said. “We had to do a balancing act.”

District distribution

While some on the council have expressed concern about the distribution of proposed projects throughout the five council districts, Cluck said he prefers to weigh how the improvements benefit the city overall.

“I’m not looking at it from a district perspective,” Cluck said.

The bulk of the recommended spending, $48.6 million, was concentrated on District 5, in east-central Arlington. Besides the Hugh Smith/East Branch Library project, proposals include an $11 million plan to widen Collins Street, Park Row Drive and Pioneer Parkway, $4.9 million to partially rebuild and remodel Fire Station No. 1 downtown and $1 million to build a pavilion, playground, trails and other amenities at Julia Burgen Park.

About $39 million in improvements was identified for District 3, which is primarily southeast Arlington. Besides gymnasiums, fitness and exercise areas and classrooms, the proposed 60,000-square-foot recreation/aquatic center would include an indoor family aquatic center with play features and slides. Other proposals include $14.4 million to rebuild and widen Matlock Road to six lanes between Bardin Road and southeast Green Oaks Boulevard, and $2.9 million to widen Collins Street between Mayfield Road and Interstate 20.

District 4, which is primarily west Arlington, had the least money proposed for specific projects. The $6.2 million in proposals include $500,000 for an off-leash dog park near Rush Creek, $600,000 to renovate the California Lane Park playground, $395,000 to remodel the Woodland West Branch Library and $3.5 million to remodel the fire training center.

The committee recommended $34.2 million in specific projects for District 2, which is primarily southwest Arlington. They include $13.7 million to rebuild and widen Turner Warnell Road to four lanes between Matlock Road and Cooper Street, $8.2 million to improve Harris Road between Cooper Street and Calender Road and $4 million to install lighted soccer fields, concession stands, restrooms and other amenities at the Harold Patterson Sports Center.

Much of District 1’s $21.2 million in proposals was concentrated in the Great Southwest Industrial District.

The north Arlington district’s recommendations include $16.2 million to rebuild Avenue E and Avenue H between Texas 360 and Great Southwest Parkway, $3 million to renovate the Ditto Golf Course, $1 million to rebuild aging parking lots and trails at River Legacy Parks and $1 million to renovate the basketball and tennis courts, dredge the pond and make other improvements at Randol Mill Park.

“If I look at the citizens bond committee recommendations, there is very little benefit to the north district. But I can’t say I’m going to be able to disagree with the committee because it benefits the city overall,” District 1 Councilman Charlie Parker said. “It’s going to be interesting to see where the priorities are.”

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