Residents urge city to support city park projects for enhanced community development 

By JAMIE L. COSTA

Monitor staff

Published: 05-30-2023 5:50 PM

More than 20 people expressed support last week for proposed city projects to be included in the 2024 capital improvement program including soccer lights at Keach Park, an inclusionary playground and a waterfront skateboard park.

If approved, the capital improvement program portion of the city budget will see a 13% increase over last year’s adopted $21.3 million amount, bringing the total up to $24.2 million for public projects, road paving and sidewalk installation, vehicle and equipment replacement and general city improvements.

Keach Park lights

The movement toward lighting up Keach Park began in 2017 when Change for Concord, a group comprised of young adults advocating for more diversity, equity and inclusion from the city toward its growing community of refugees and New Americans, introduced a proposal to City Council. The expenditure didn’t rise to the city’s list of top priorities and wasn’t funded.

Under new leadership, Fisto Ndayishimiye reapproached councilors in November asking for more financial support from the city, starting with the installation of lights at Keach Park, an initiative that would help New American youth find a sense of community in the Heights,the city's most diverse neighborhood. The demand influenced the city manager and councilors to move the project into this year’s budget proposal.

“This is not just for soccer, it’s about the culture and the background of our people,” Ndayishimiye said during the budget presentation on Thursday. “Having lights will bring more playing hours for young people who work during the day and don’t have the opportunity to use the park while making sure the field is safe for young people to play soccer.”

When the project was first presented in 2017, councilors estimated it could cost between $400,000 and $500,000, but City Manager Tom Aspell allocated $383,000 for the installation which councilors were urged to approve.

“It has been a long fight and we are excited for this next step,” said Change for Concord member Steven Kidder during the budget presentation. “The park is heavily utilized by different cultures and backgrounds and the absence of lights at the park makes it dangerous and difficult for players and community members.”

Additionally, the soccer lights proposal received the support of Catherine Corkery, director of the Sierra Club, and Meredith Cooley, a parent, supporter of Change for Concord and co-director of the Concord Greenspace Coalition and several city councilors.

White Park inclusionary playground

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The approval of a proposed playground at White Park would bring the first all-accessible playground for children and guardians to Concord.

“This plan we are looking at comes out of a lot of community meetings, particularly with children who would be using the park,” said Rick McPartlin on behalf of the Friends of White Park. “We feel very strongly that the community needs to have a playground where all kids and guardians can go and play and watch their kids play so this park can continue to serve a diverse and broad array of people who live in the city.”

Of the $800,000 allocated for the reconstruction of the inclusionary playground, $400,000 will come from federal funding, $350,000 will come from city funding and $50,000 will be donated by the Friends of White Park.

Skateboard park

As part of the revision process for Kiwanis Riverfront Park, Parks and Recreation Director David Gill lead the public through two informational sessions last month to gather feedback from residents on their communal needs, many of which expressed their desire and support for a renovated skate park.

Other renovations would include a pavilion, amphitheater, children’s playground, boathouse, walking paths, more parking and an area expansion. The total cost for design and permitting would cost the city $200,000.

“Skateboarding is one of the most popular growing sports in the world,” said Ted Rice. “It brings together culture and community. The kids and the people who regularly use the skate park built their lives around it and became lifelong friends. As the state capital, we should be leading the way here.”

Additional projects include $3.1 million for the highway improvement program, $1.57 million for fire department vehicle purchases and replacements, $1.7 million for vehicle maintenance and equipment replacement, $1.09 million for sidewalk, bikeway and street scape improvements $456,000 for public safety to replace hoses and personal protective equipment, purchase cardiac equipment and a drone and purchase computer crime hardware.

Overview

If approved without changes, the city’s total spending would increase by 5.7% from $123.1 million to $130.1 million. The proposed 4% tax increase for residents would mean an extra $108 per year for a home worth $300,000. In addition to the budget increase, residents can expect to see a 4.5% increase for city water services and a 5% increase for city wastewater services, which will impact the average resident by $1.12 and $2 a month, respectively.

Compared t0 last year, employee compensation increased by more than $2 million – $1.6 million in payroll while benefits will increase by $446,000. The city used nearly $900,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to pay for employee salaries and benefits to lower the impact on taxpayers.

Additionally, councilors will be asked to approve a solid waste and recycling adjustment that will increase the small purple bag price from $12.5 to $1.60 and the large purple bag price from $2.50 to $3.20, which will bring an additional $420,000 to the city in revenue.

On Thursday, councilors will discuss special revenue funds to include parking, airport, conservation property, revolving loans, the golf course, the area and special water and wastewater funds. A proposed final hearing is scheduled to take place on Monday as part of a committee work session, public hearing and budget adoption.

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