Disagreements over who should pay for problems with the upgrade of McNamara Park have pushed its reopening back five months – and counting.
The almost 9-acre south Merced park was marked for a face-lift in spring 2013, one that would put about $2.6 million in state grant money into the roughly 70-year-old park.
Though city officials were expecting the 1040 Canal St. park to be ready in April, the uneven artificial pitch has city leaders in negotiations with contractors regarding who will fix the depressions in the field.
As a result, city officials say they are uncertain when the renovations will be complete.
“We are still trying to get it to the shape that we, at the city, and the residents in the city expected it to be in,” said Mike Conway, a spokesman for the city.
Austin, Texas-based Hellas Construction Inc., Quad Knopf of Merced and Avison Construction Inc. of Madera all contracted with the city for varying degrees of planning and work.
The artificial field has developed depressions on the playing surface. “We’re trying to figure out how these depressions happened and who needs to be the one lining up to fix it,” Conway said.
Hot weather this summer had some effects on the real grass pitch, which needs to soak in water to grow, he said.
City staff thought it best to not allow the park to be used while the condition remains under dispute, he said. The pitch with real grass and the splash pad, a fountain in which people can play, could be open sooner than the artificial turf.
Surrounding the splash pad are new sidewalks, benches, planters and a restroom.
The community park is often humming with activity – children on the jungle gym, adults playing dominoes and others having conversations. However, the large expanses of green fields remain blocked off from those looking to kick the ball around.
City staff has said more than 3,000 children play soccer citywide, between Merced Youth Soccer and Merced Atlas Academy.
Academy president Fernando Aguilera said his organization has nearly 1,000 girls and boys who play soccer at different levels of competition. Children from ages 5 to 18 in the program have been using McNamara Park for practice and games for 15 years but have had to find other places to play and practice since the upgrade began in November.
Aguilera said he appreciates everything the city is doing to improve the playing surface but is disappointed the field’s opening has been put on hold.
Soccer can be a good opportunity for some in Merced. Atlas is registered with the U.S. Soccer Federation, which makes the academy unique in the region. Sixteen players who graduated from the program last year earned scholarships to play college soccer, he said.
The demand for more fields is high, he said, and, because winter is coming, many of the fields in town don’t have sufficient lighting.
Aguilera said he’s been looking for places to play and practice through the end of the year. He said he has even considered having teams drive to Turlock. Because the park’s reopening date keeps getting pushed back, he said, he has given up on waiting for the McNamara pitch.
“(Turlock) is far away, and it will be hard for our kids, but what else can we do?” he said.