Exeter votes for $177K in park grant funds

City Council votes in favor of applying for park grant funds that would go toward new and repaired play structures at City and Unger Park during their Nov. 9 meeting

EXETER – The city of Exeter is looking forward to having $177,000 to play with. Fittingly, they are planning to put it towards community play equipment.

The city council voted in favor of applying for $177,952 offered by a per capita park grant by the state. City staff made it clear that the best place to put the money is in play structures at City Park and Unger Park. Both will receive rubber flooring and Unger Park will get a new play structure. City Park will receive updated equipment.

According to a staff report the city will fall $9,200 short, but thanks to an unnamed community partner they will be able to overcome the financial shortfall.

Councilman David Hails asked why the city offered to spend the money on play equipment at the two parks instead of repairing the needs at Dobson Field. The park used by Exeter Little League and Exeter High School baseball has suffered from vandalism that has damaged the electrical and sprinkler system, in the past.

Public works director, Damon Qualls said they first looked at play structures because over the last few years they have had to spend a substantial amount of money repairing vandalism and bringing them up to standard. He added that Unger Park doesn’t have a play structure at all.

Councilman Frankie Alves recognized that the money spent on parks comes out of the city’s general fund, and the parks grant money could help free up money for repairs at Dobson.

“I feel like if we if we utilize this money solely on Dobson, how much would we get out of it,” Alves asked. “Where at the same time, we get a whole play structure at Ungar [Park], which doesn’t have anything. And then some renovation and repairs to the play structure at City Park.”

City manager Adam Ennis echoed Alves’ point and noted that while $177,000 feels like a lot, it doesn’t go as far as appears at first.

“You’ve probably got to do multiple projects [at Dobson Field] to get that facility cleaned up…and be able to use it the way that the council would like to, and the community would like to,” Ennis said. He went on to say that city staff may be better off seeking a grant to help fund a parks master plan that would help them, “bite off a project at a time and have it go towards an ultimate picture of what the community and the council is looking for there.”

Mayor Barbara Sally said that she has spoken with community members who are interested in helping repair Dobson Field, and would rather spend the parks grant money on the play structures.

“I think the two park thing sounds really good for the kids in the town,” Sally said.

Councilman Justin Mills was in line with other members on the council to fund park improvements instead of Dobson.

“I think I agree with Frankie and Madam Mayor. I think right now the two parks would do the most good for the most amount of people,” Mills said.

The item was motioned by Councilman Steve Garver. Alves seconded the motion and added commentary about evaluating park projects for the future. “As we go along to projects I would love to have a master plan of all the parts and what we think we can do in the future,” Alves said. The council voted unanimously to approve the parks grant application.

Other park improvements, or the lack there of, were discussed as well. The long mulled over wading pool at City Park has been empty for years in light of severe droughts. Qualls said there has been some discussion, presumably between the city and community organizations, of taking the pool out and turning it into a basketball court. But those talks have been preliminary.

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