Dec 19 2016

Aquatics Funding, Skate Park Dangers, Veterans Hall, Recreation Building, Haunted House Revenue

I attended the Recreation Commission meeting on Wednesday, November 16, 2016 at 7:30 p.m. in the Piedmont City Hall. The commissioners meet every third Wednesday of the month to discuss current projects in the city regarding recreational activities, parks and sports.

Chair Betsy Smegal Anderson began the meeting by calling public speakers to the stand to discuss any issues or suggestions that were not on the agenda. PHS students spoke regarding a desire for Triathlons put on by the Piedmont community that would include special ed students, creating more bike lanes and making running trails in various Piedmont parks. Anderson continued with a discussion of the progress of multiple Recreation Department Projects throughout Piedmont. The first project discussed was the Recreation Department Tot Lot play equipment which was approved on November 7th by the City Council. Now that the contract has been approved, the play equipment is looking to be finished by late January.

Next, Recreation Director Sara Lillevand described the progress of the Hampton Park Improvement Project which is working to turn the previous baseball field into a multi-functional park and sports field. She explained that the field is taking shape now that the grading, dugout and bleachers are almost finished and is on track to be finished by mid January. A plaque is also going to be placed on the backstop of the field to memorialize Oakland Police officer John Hege who was well known and loved by the community. The remaining details for the park including the ordering and paying for different sports equipment and storage will be taken care of before the opening.

Piedmont High School student Amelia Eldridge then spoke regarding the use of real grass or turf for the new park, a controversial decision on many fields in Piedmont. Director Lillevand explained that only a small portion of the field would be artificial turf and the remainder would be kept as natural grass and that the markings on the grass would be done seasonally to fit a variety of age groups and sports.

 The next topic discussed was the update on the Recreation Department/Veterans Hall Master Plan to optimize space efficiency for programs in the two buildings. Director Lillevand explained that the spaces in the Recreation Department and Veterans Hall are being assessed based on what is currently offered and what would be most efficient and beneficial to offer in the future. There are no set plans yet, although Public Works Director Chester Nakahara will be making the selection for the renovations using surveys from the public to get a wide range of opinions.

Another issue addressed was the current Kennelly Skate Park hours of operation. The limited park hours of  8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 3 p.m. to dusk on weekends are looking to be expanded to increase the availability of the park. Commission members pointed out issues of noise, safety, volunteer availability for monitoring and lack of park use by the public.  Steve Roland stated that the park seems to be used mainly by children and they are in school during the open hours of the park which makes the monitoring pointless. Student Amelia Eldridge confirmed that the park being closed is not necessarily a deterrent from kids entering the park, which poses a safety threat.

Director Lillevand responded to a group of Piedmont Middle School students that explained that the skate park has limited space with dangerous conditions which makes the park less desireable, by suggesting filling in the large bowl in the park to create more space. The Commission established that the purpose of the monitor should be revisited and the City should take a look at the current safety of the park and understand what age groups would be using it.

 I believe that the Recreation Committee should advertise the need for staff help for Skate Park monitoring in order to increase the park’s hours. If the students who attend the park are able to participate in the monitoring after engaging in a short safety training, the lack of staff would no longer be an issue. It is important to make the most use out of the limited park spaces in Piedmont.

Chair Anderson then discussed the new Aquatics Coordinator Tyler Waespi who was hired last June. Tyler earned his position with his impressive interview, intensive training and working success this past summer.

Anderson went on to discuss the Aquatics Master Plan Conceptual Design which is moving forward with pre ideas given by the hired architect. The plan is to create a larger, more attractive and ultimately more functional pool that will attract more use from the public. PHS student Skyler Liu asked a question regarding where the funds for the project will be coming from. Anderson responded by explaining the $15 million budget that would most likely come from private fundraising and a bond fund. After student Kerry O’Connor suggested a new ideas for the placement of the water polo cages, Anderson confirmed that any minor design details for the project have not been decided.

The last topic addressed was a recap of the Piedmont Recreation Department Haunted House that is held in the Recreation Building every Halloween weekend. Director Lillevand proudly reported that this year there were 720 visitors on Friday and over 1,000 total throughout the weekend despite the last minute change of theme. Anderson suggested that the entry fee of $5 should be revisited considering the tremendous amount of time, planning and money that goes into the event. PHS student Nina Adarkar suggested that the Adventure Crew Club could volunteer to sell food at the end of the Haunted House to raise money for the costs of the production.

At the end of the meeting, I was honored to speak with Director Sara Lillevand about her position and reasons for participating. As the Director of the Recreation Department, Sara explained that she was here to create solutions for the community and to hear the needs and desires of the public. She believes that recreation enhances people’s lives and introduces healthy and fun opportunities into people’s lives. Lillevand described recreation as a “huge umbrella” that has a broad impact on the community, from preschool and school mates to PHS Seniors.

Addie MacCracken, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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