AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — After two years of work from numerous city of Amarillo-related boards, as well as various instances of community engagement, the city of Amarillo’s Parks and Recreation Board took a step towards the department’s progress during Monday’s special meeting, approving a recommendation of the parks master plan to bring to the City Council next week.
In a unanimous 9-0 vote, the board approved a recommendation for the master plan during the special meeting. This is a culmination of more than two years’ work by the department, which began in 2019 with an asset management plan of the department’s assets.
How did the department get to this point?
Cindy Mendoza, the director of parks and recreation with MIG Consulting, a firm which helped the city’s Parks and Recreation Department with its master plan, said the city’s department was “facing some severe funding challenges” as a result of the asset management plan.
“It really documented some extreme needs of some high-risk assets moving forward,” she said. “With that, we needed the public to better understand some of those critical challenges, to help (the Amarillo City) Council understand how best to invest in the park and recreation system.”
Since that initial asset management plan, city officials hosted numerous community engagement opportunities through online surveys and public meetings. Through this feedback, the department narrowed down the following priorities to focus on including:
- Maintenance, or replacement, of older park amenities;
- Expanding, or improving, athletic facilities;
- Adding new parks in underserved areas;
- Adding more variety in existing parks.
According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, the plan also revisits the department’s park classification system, separating parks into categories such as large community parks, regional parks and neighborhood parks.
Prior to Monday’s vote at the special meeting, there were minor changes to the plan itself, including recommendations to add some staff members with the increased funding to the department.
After the unanimous vote, Amarillo Parks and Recreation Director Michael Kashuba was excited to get to work on the improvements of the department through this master plan.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “We’ve got, I think, a really solid document that will really help shape future parks for the next 10 years. This is going to be our blueprint that we are going to be working from.”
What does this mean to the individuals involved with this plan?
Because this was a master plan drafted with a lot of community engagement, Kashuba said it means a lot to him to see the community’s voice highlighted through this plan.
“I think it’s a very realistic plan. I think that was one of the things our strategic subcommittee and our park board recognized that was very important,” he said. “We didn’t want a plan that would just sit on a shelf. We feel like this is a very actionable plan, something that we can monitor, that we have some accountability with our park board, in terms of making sure we are moving in the right direction.”
John Ingerson’s affirmative vote on Monday was a vote of confidence in the work which has occurred over the past two years. Ingerson, who serves as the chairman of the Parks and Recreation Board, said he believes the plan is a road map to get the department to a point to where residents would like it to be in the future.
“When you are talking about spending tax dollars, that’s where I took it really (personally) because I am a taxpayer too,” he said. “I really believe that all we had to do is be honest and upfront with people and they would kind of rally around this plan and what we were asking of them… We all want greenspace. We all want places to play and have fun with our kids. The athletic component of this is really huge. It really feels good to be able to kind of, in a way, give the community really what they are asking for. I feel like that’s what we have done.”
Mendoza said through this plan, the city is going to be able to “repair and ensure the safety of playgrounds, sports fields, sports courts, lighted fields all across the system, and even introduce new opportunities.”
But those improvements will not be made overnight. Bob Altman, the vice chairman for the board, encouraged taxpayers to be patient, stressing that the improvements will be worth the wait.
“We do have a good blueprint now. It took us a while to get in the shape that our parks and rec is in. It’s going to take us a while. We need to be patient but we will see improvements,” he said. “We are going to see things happen and I think we are going to see things happen pretty rapidly. I’m excited about the improvements and I think the public will be very happy with those improvements.”
When will the city council make a decision on this master plan and how does it impact November’s election?
The Amarillo City Council is expected to vote on this master plan during its next regular meeting on Sept. 28. This gives the city’s Parks and Recreation department the chance to apply for a grant for funds from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department by the end of the month.
If the master plan is approved by the Amarillo City Council, Kashuba said the department will immediately begin to focus on repairing and/or replacing its high-risk assets, maintaining what the department already has.
But if voters approve the implementation of proposition A in November, more funding could come to the city’s parks and recreation department. According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, the city council approved a tax rate of $0.48404 in August, triggering a November election. If proposition A fails, the rate would fall to the voter approval tax rate of $0.44334, a rate which is $0.0407 lower than the rate council voted on. This would give less funds for the parks and recreation department to work with.
If proposition A does pass in November, Kashuba said it would take the parks and recreation department to the next level, adding amenities and making further improvements.
“Right now, we are focused on fixing what we’ve got,” he said. “The November vote… would start to address additional items, adding and expanding, those types of things.”
If the council approves the department’s master plan at its Sept. 28 meeting, it will give the department the ability to start working through the action items the plan consists of. While there are many action items as a part of the overall plan, Kashuba said one of the initial priorities is to improve the department’s athletic fields, including field lighting and the maintenance of those fields.
Kashuba said the plan will be available to view on the department’s website if it is approved. Kashuba does not expect for there to be any additional changes made to the plan before the Sept. 28 city council meeting.