Residents from Oro Valley and surrounding areas showed up in force on Wednesday evening to voice support for a $2.3 million improvement project at Naranja Park.
Scheduled for completion by Jan. 1, 2015, the renovations will include a 1.1-acre dog park, 180-space parking lot, two multi-sport athletic fields, and necessary utilities like lighting and water.
The long-awaited improvements come after council’s adoption of a 2002 master plan that remained dormant as sub-studies were conducted between 2006 and 2007, only to be further prolonged in 2008, when voters rejected a $48.6 million bond that would have allowed phase one of the plan to commence.
But after a unanimous vote by council last week, the project will again move forward in what Town Manager Greg Caton called an aggressive timeline.
“We are already planned to hit the ground running, literally, tomorrow,” said Caton.
Grading for the improvements, which includes 24.6 acres of the park’s south end, is anticipated to begin in January. Utilities are set to be in place by spring, and the fields will be sodded, over-seeded, and grown beginning in late spring.
Roadway improvements leading to the park will also be made. Town staff is exploring the idea of running information technology lines from town hall to the park to allow for wireless Internet. Permanent restrooms and drinking fountains will be withheld until phase two plans are decided, following an updated master plan.
“This project is building upon the existing master plan that was adopted by council in previous years but certainly there is the opportunity to update that plan,” said Caton.
That update, in which staff will reach out for renewed community input, will begin after the first of the year, says Caton.
For now though, it is apparent residents are supportive of the initial improvements.
Seventeen speakers weighed in on the project, many affiliated with athletic organizations. They say a current lack of field space in Oro Valley forces them to commute further and/or share tight quarters with other sporting activities.
“We offer flag football, basketball, volleyball, rugby, quidditch… we also offer a Frisbee team and other things,” said Basis Oro Valley teacher and athletic director Mark Durfee. “Our home field, currently, is Jacob’s Ochoa Park, because it’s the nearest site we have access to.”
Larry O’Day and Robert Shumann expressed interest in the improvements on behalf of Sonoran Desert Flyers, a model aircraft club, saying the space would allow them to host events there.
Residents associated with area lacrosse teams, Little League baseball, and club soccer also spoke in favor, some pointing out the potential economic benefits the town could see as a result of the improvements.
While nobody spoke against development at Naranja Park, some expressed hesitancy in how to best proceed.
Residents John Musolf, Don Bristow, and Bill Adler agree a more developed, long-term plan should be implemented before beginning improvements.
Musolf called for clarity as to whether the improvements are based on the 2001 Naranja Park Master Plan or the coming Master Plan.
“It sounds more like this is the first step with a piecemeal approach by the Town of Oro Valley internal staff,” he said.
Adler worries about the willingness of residents to financially contribute to future improvements to the park following the failed bond in 2008.
“Are we setting ourselves up by spending ($2.3 million) for infrastructure and lighting and so on, with enthusiasm for more, and then to find people aren’t willing to pay?” he asked. “I’d prefer that citizens… have an opportunity to decide not just on two multiuse parks, but on the balance of this park with some understanding of what is going to be expected from them.”
Adler called for the measure to be placed on a ballot, in which cost- per-household would be listed for voters, and in which residents could vote on park usage options.
Mayor Satish Hiremath said it is best to move forward now as opposed to later.
“One of the things that really is a death knell for a lot of individuals, a lot of groups, a lot of municipalities, is that they play the waiting game, and they wait and they wait… I applaud the council and I applaud the residents for coming out to voice your input on how important development of this site is.”
The town will pay for the improvements using $1.4 million from General Fund Contingency Reserves, $300,000 from Parks and Recreation Impact Fees, $400,000 from Bed Tax Fund Contingency Reserves, and $197,000 in Council-Designated Reserves.
In other news, the Town of Oro Valley received a clean financial audit from public accounting firm Heinfeld, Meech & Co., P.C., for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013. No deficiencies or concerns were presented to management during the audit.
The town ended the year with a $1.7 million surplus in the General Fund.