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October 30, 2013

Officials to break ground on south Merced park upgrades

The city plans to break ground on the renovation of McNamara Park, which will get a $2.6 million face-lift. The south Merced park is a gathering place for many in a neighborhood that has a reputation for a high crime rate but also a place with a sense of strong community and camaraderie.

The state grant money about to be poured into a south Merced park next week is a good start, according to area advocates who said they hope it’s just the beginning of more revitalization in some of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.

Work is set to begin Monday on the $2.6 million and nearly six-month long face-lift of south Merced’s McNamara Park, which is known to be a popular gathering place. City officials plan a groundbreaking ceremony at 11 a.m. Friday at the almost 9-acre park, 1040 Canal St.

Barbara Padron-Livermore, president of the Merced Organizing Project, said her organization works primarily in south Merced.

“South Merced doesn’t get a whole lot of funding,” she said, adding that development projects seem more common up north. “That’s the kind of imbalance we see. To have something this grand going on in south Merced makes the community very happy.”

The lack of funding in the area is not helped, she said, by south Merced’s historically low voter-turnout rates. That’s one thing her nonprofit works to remedy.

As passersby know, it’s common to see people in the park: men playing dominoes, women sitting in the shade and children kicking a soccer ball. Padron-Livermore said the park is also a popular place for parties.

Plans for park upgrades include converting a softball field into two gated soccer fields with artificial turf, and creating an all-purpose grass field. Upgrades are planned for playground equipment and walkways. New additions include Americans with Disabilities Act ramps, security cameras, artwork, security lighting and splash pad – a fountain that children can play in.

Padron-Livermore said south Merced is still in need of funding. The upgrades are a good start, she said, but being able to build a community center, for example, would benefit the community by keeping children busy.

“Keeping kids out of trouble is more than just policing them,” she said. “There needs to be things for them to do.”

The boundaries for south Merced can vary according to who you ask. It is generally considered the area south of Highway 99, west of the Doane-Hartley Lateral irrigation canal, east of West Avenue and north of Mission Avenue, according to 2003 South Merced Strategic Plan documents.

Councilwoman Mary-Michal Rawling said McNamara Park represents good memories for many in the city, and a destination for those who live nearby. That’s what makes it so important to residents, she said.

“People often fondly remember games and leagues and events that happened in McNamara Park decades ago,” she said. “There’s definitely a strong sense of community when you think about the park.”

The park has withered over the years and will benefit from the face-lift, she said.

Austin, Texas-based Hellas Construction Inc. won the contract to install synthetic turf at McNamara Park. The company’s bid was $630,543, the lowest of nine estimates. The other $1.5million in changes will be carried out by Avison Construction Inc., a Madera company whose bid was the lowest.

McNamara Park was a popular topic at City Council meetings and in the community over the past few years.

The park’s pool opened to many eager swimmers in June, a big deal to local residents because of the pool’s recent past.

After being closed in 2011, the pool reopened last year when south Merced residents pushed city officials to find $70,000 in city money and private donations to renovate the pool.

Other revitalization projects in south Merced include a plan to improve the Martin Luther King Jr. Way corridor, and the rezoning of the area near Childs Avenue and Canal Street for a grocery store.

Rawling said that with limited pots of money in Merced, the city will have to continue to look at creative ways to develop that end of town.

“When the opportunity for funding comes up, the city has done a good job of prioritizing the needs of south Merced,” she said, adding the needs are great. “Is there more to be done? Absolutely.”

The park upgrades could be done by the end of April.

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