As community members, philanthropic leaders and even elected officials called into a virtual town hall meeting hosted by the Columbia Park Master Plan Ad Hoc Committee on Monday night, they made one thing clear: the plan to renovate the park and its aquatic features needs to take into consideration the opinions of those who matter most, the residents of Turlock’s westside.
After the City Council appropriated $40,000 in funding for a facility evaluation study in November 2019, Aquatic Design Group conducted an assessment of the pool and spray ground at Columbia Park. There was a total of 18 violations discovered during the assessment, all of which pose a liability to the health and safety of the public and many that would not allow the pool to open legally, even if it could during the coronavirus pandemic.
This led City staff to create a Columbia Park Master Plan, which was presented to the City Council and the Parks, Arts and Recreation Commission during a joint meeting in July. The plan features three rehabilitation options for the pool that would take care of its existing problems. Since the swimming pool was built in 1957, it has undergone minor renovations and facility updates. The pool has only been replastered once, in 1999.
During that July meeting, an Ad Hoc Committee comprised of PARC Chair Brent Bohlender, Commissioner Randy Icelow and Commissioner Allison Jeffery was formed to begin community outreach and decide which option would be best for Turlock residents. While they have been collecting input since then, a survey will be posted on the City website (www.cityofturlock.org) this week which will collect and record the first concrete feedback from community members so far.
While Monday’s town hall was one of several meetings the City Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities Department has hosted since the plan was presented in July, callers stated the coronavirus pandemic and language barriers have prevented adequate outreach when it comes to surrounding neighborhoods which the much-needed improvements would impact. State guidelines prohibit many of the primary methods the City of Turlock would have typically used to get the word out, like public meetings and door-to-door distribution of informational materials, meaning the City has had to rely on email and social media alerts, as well as word of mouth and fliers distributed to local nonprofits on the westside.
Turlock resident Karina Franco phoned in to say that although the online survey is accessible to most, the internet-based outreach is not connecting with the correct demographic. The community will have until Dec. 4 to voice their opinions via the survey, which will be available in English and Spanish, but Franco argued that the deadline should be extended to allow those who weren’t aware of the project more time.
According to Jeffery, who answered questions related to outreach during the town hall the Ad Hoc Committee looked into providing translation for Monday’s meeting, but was not yet able to make it work.
“I feel that you’re asking for communication from the community, but really you should be reaching this area in particular because that’s where it impacts,” Franco said. “...I’m concerned about moving forward without community input specifically from the west side community. Many of the residents in that neighborhood don't even have a clue about what's going on.”
“I feel like if you really want to incorporate the side of town it really affects, it would be really important to get them to take that survey. But as of right now, no one really knows about what’s going on with the pool...they’re not getting access to the information,” said another caller with the last name Andrade. “You’re giving us less than a month to get the community on this side to understand the situation but they can’t even give their opinions when as of right now, a majority of them don’t know what’s going on.”
Jeffery also said fliers about the Master Plan have been distributed to Westside Ministries and United Samaritans, as well as included in food boxes distributed to families in need.
So far, the Ad Hoc Committee has worked alongside O’Dell Engineering and City staff to lead the Master Plan process until completion, completing a Frequently Asked Questions page and conducting a SWOT analysis to examine Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats associated with the project, both of which are available on the City website.
There are three rehabilitation options for Columbia Pool. Option A presented again on Monday night would keep everything the way it is, but fix a majority of the code violations that prohibit the pool from opening. This would not include ADA improvements, which are also needed, and would cost $1.8 million.
Option B would see the pool removed from Columbia Park altogether, with the existing spray park and pool space replaced with a larger spray ground. New restrooms, a picnic area and parking lot would be included as well. This option would cost about $2.5 million.
Option C is the most expensive and would feature a smaller-sized swimming pool constructed from the existing pool’s shell, along with updated mechanical and chemical equipment as well as new restrooms, concession stand, ticket office and additional splash pad. This option would cost $6.3 million.
When the Master Plan was originally introduced in July, it was believed that the City would be able to apply for grant funding in order to complete the project, however, the pool’s hours make the project ineligible for funding since it is open less than seven days per week. There were also other factors in determining that the Columbia Pool would likely not receive grant funding, like the fact that it’s an already-existing location rather than a new park and that the project is a rehabilitation endeavor rather than expansion.
Westside Ministries Director JoLynn DiGrazia called into the meeting to say she was “frustrated” at the process, which includes options that would pave some of the only open space for gatherings on the westside with parking spaces. She was also dismayed that a downsized “pay-for-play” model was being considered for one of the area’s only parks.
“This is the only place where people can meet on the westside of Turlock that is free and open. The schools’ playgrounds, that’s not a place. Only what we have there at Columbia Park,” DiGrazia said. “...Please don't take out our trees, don't put in a parking lot and please let us know at some point why it took until a year ago for our City employees, our people at City Hall, to understand that the pool is in disrepair. That’s very unacceptable.”
Councilman Gil Esquer, who represents and lives on the westside, echoed DiGrazia’s comments.
“The people on the westside, we don't care about additional parking space in the park. We would rather have more green family space,” Esquer said, adding that he too was concerned about Spanish-speaking or low-income families having access to the survey. “We need to do whatever we can to make it easier for this neighborhood to speak up and say, ‘Hey, this is what we like.’
“...This neighborhood is really the one who should have the most input because it’s going to affect us the most,” Esquer continued. “There are plenty of other parks for everyone else to go play or do whatever, have their picnics and have their parking lots, but Columbia Park is all we got, folks. I don't want to see us lose our pool and end up with additional parking lot space.”
The community has until Dec. 4 to complete the Columbia Park Master Plan survey. For those who would like to submit written feedback, emails may be sent to email@example.com and letters may be mailed to or dropped off at the Recreation Division, 144 S. Broadway.
To access and complete the survey in English, visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/columbiaparkmpsurveyenglish?fbclid=IwAR3vdwqFW2g5rUwBRFBy9jdD3RGoGPT05oqQbmQP763_on8B99xR5UlFxp4.
To complete the survey in Spanish, visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/columbiaparkmpsurveyspanish?fbclid=IwAR3PAZlNZhTdTL60mZEDgiTx1je43mj1_5SQTHam2gCloiGy9neUH0k8fGA.
All documents pertaining to the Columbia Park Master Plan can be found on the City website at https://ci.turlock.ca.us/parksfieldsbuildings/columbiaparkmasterplan/?fbclid=IwAR2kwWEtOqML6YWhdfFJbewrGH70IN8kQnCDbpVvgE37wI0frU2B7SFFZAk.