Construction causes damage at Central Park

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By Rachel Madison

Damage left behind after a large water connection was installed at Central Park for the Butler Farms subdivision are set to be mitigated by developer MA Partners following a unanimous vote from the City’s Parks & Recreation Board Thursday.

“A large water connection was placed at Central Park and lots of equipment was moved through there,” said Mayor Liz Branigan. “The soil was compacted, trees were damaged, and there’s now a large unsightly cement box there. I was surprised because this is obviously a park and not an appropriate place to put this connection.”

Branigan added that because heavy equipment was driven across the park enough times, it formed a road through the center.

“Unless we encourage the grass to grow there again, there will be a permanent eroded area,” she said. “It also looks like the trees above were hacked with a machete to cut off limbs to allow the digging equipment to go through, and they were not treated right.”

Wyatt Henderson, of MA Partners, said it wasn’t his company’s choice to put the water connection box in the park, but he agreed his organization is responsible for the damages.

“We were told to put [the connection box] there,” he said. “I like to say we follow the rules very well. We don’t decide where things go, that’s the city engineers that tell us where to put things. I will say how it was put in; we do have some responsibility for that. Obviously, we want to make sure it’s done right. We want to be good neighbors and we are willing to fix this because we feel it’s the right thing to do.”

In their proposal, MA Partners said they would pay $59,000 for tree care, oak wilt prevention, root fertilization and aeration, and more for the next three years, to get the damaged trees back to a healthy state and to make sure they remain healthy, said City Administrator Lacie Hale. The developer also said they would pay an additional $25,000 for aesthetics at the park to be repaired and improved, including upgrading the path, shrubbery and turf and installing an irrigation system.

“Because annual tree care is proposed for three years, that means that for three years the City doesn’t have to take into consideration the tree care and pruning of trees in Central Park because it’ll be taken care of,” Hale said. “This will be a savings in the Parks budget.”

Hale added that MA Partners has also agreed to put up a bond equal to $200 per caliper inch in case any of the trees in the park do end up with oak wilt.

“They brought this bond forth as a way to mitigate those damages and protect the trees,” she said. “The bond is for two years.”

Branigan said she didn’t want the Council to decide on the proposal without input from the Parks Board because of its involvement with Central Park for the last several years. The Parks Board unanimously approved the proposal to be presented to the Council at a future meeting so that repairs can begin

Also at the Parks Board meeting, Hale said a bid for the Liberty Hill swim center, to be constructed at City Park, will be awarded at the Sept. 22 council meeting.

“The bids have come in significantly over what we budgeted, but in order to start reviewing the expenditures that could be cut, we need to award a bid,” Hale said. “For example, we could look into doing stucco instead of doing stone.”

Hale said the bids were at an average of $2.2. million for the project, but the overall budget is set at $1.8 million.

“This was a two-part bid: one for the pool and one for the lift station and force main,” she said. “Some bids we received were just for the pool, some were for the lift station and force main, and some were for both. The lift station cost came in about where we thought, but there’s been a significant increase in supply and demand. In order for us to get into it, we need to award the bid and go through it and see how we can fall within that $1.8 million budget.”

Hale also discussed upcoming park expenditures with the Board that will be directly related to the swim center, including pool operation, chemicals, employee labor, lifeguards and more.

“I have reached out to the City of Leander to get their budget for their swimming pool off of Bagdad because it’s the most comparable to our pool plan,” Hale said. “It has splash pad type features, which we will be implementing as well.”

Hale said for now, the Council plans to approve a flat budget for the Parks department of $132,500—the same as the previous year’s budget, which is what most departments are doing as the City’s 2020 audit remains incomplete.

“We have ballparks as far as potential parks expenditures, but we will be able to come back and get into the weeds of that in October or November after we move forward with adopting a budget that is consistent with what is currently in place. In two to three months, we can do a full budget amendment to capture our additional expenditures for fiscal year 21-22.”

The Parks Board also discussed its list of top priorities for each of the City’s parks, which were submitted anonymously by City Council members and Parks Board members at a workshop between the two groups last month. At City Park, trees were the No. 1 request, followed by lights on the football and soccer fields, paved parking, a water bottle filling station, shade structure and wildflower area.

At Central Park, top priorities are a water fountain, small amphitheater, natural play area, body weight workout area, seating and a playground. Pocket parks within the city were given the priorities of needing exercise equipment—especially along the City’s new shared use path—and partnering with local organizations for landscaping.

Priorities for Veterans Park included replacing the dying trees there, as well as adding more foliage, flowers and a retired flag station. At Wetzel Park, music speakers, fun bright colors and a playscape were suggested.

Other priorities for city parks in the future include a sports complex for baseball and softball fields, as well as hosted events like Shakespeare in the Park, a barbecue cookoff, a farmer’s market and movies in the park, among others.

The next meeting of the Parks & Recreation Board is Oct. 21 at 6 p.m.

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