By Tim Farley, The City Sentinel
Oklahoma City’s new parks and recreation director is “thrilled” that every municipal park will be improved and meet neighbors’ expectations due to $140 million in MAPS 4 funding.
“Anytime we can enhance our parks, everybody loves it,” parks director Melinda McMillan-Miller said. “It could be anything as far as improvements, from updating playground equipment to planting trees. It just depends on the public engagement we get from the community and neighborhoods. We want to get clued into their needs. I don’t want to be presumptive until we hear from the neighbors.”
An estimated $63 million will be spent on renovations to the city’s 101 parks.
“The (MAPS 4) subcommittee (on parks) will determine how much goes to different parks and some parks may not need much investment,” Miller said. “We will do a lot of engagement with our residents so a lot of what they have to say is so important.”
Some of those improvements could potentially include bathrooms, playground equipment, shade structures, splashpads, furnishings, trees, paths, activity facilities and signage.
The $140 million that will be spent on parks is the largest portion of the MAPS 4 program, which totals $978 million in citywide projects. All projects will be funded with a temporary one-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2019. The penny sales tax began April 1, 2020 and will end in 2028.
Four other new parks are planned for west Oklahoma City in Canadian County, southern Oklahoma City in Cleveland County, southeast Oklahoma City and northeast Oklahoma City. Each one of those parks will cost about $2.25 million to build, according to the MAPS 4 plan.
“We’re trying to push these new parks to the outer limits of the city where there is nothing,” Miller, who moved from interim to formal status as parks director recently, said.
The process to identify and purchase land for the new parks could take about eight months to a year, she said.
Oklahoma City’s commitment to parks began in 1995 with a bond issue. Prior to that, parks were an afterthought at city hall, having been ignored for more than three decades starting in the 1960s.
“It was a period of stagnation,” Miller said.
Since the initial bond issue in 1995, parks have been a part of every bond issue since then including 2000, 2007 and 2017.
“We’ve had some great initiatives to help the parks,” Miller said.
David Todd, MAPS 4 program manager, said the parks portion of MAPS 4 consists of “a whole lot of moving pieces. The parks part of this will go on through the duration of the entire (MAPS 4) program” which will last eight years.
Parks planning will take about a year, he said. The city will spend about $5 million at a time during the various phases of the park plan.
“That gives smaller local firms a chance to do some of the work,” Todd said.
An additional $60 million has been set aside for specific projects including $29 million for soccer facilities at C.B. Cameron Park near Lake Hefner and Southlakes Park in south Oklahoma City.
The package also includes improvements to the Oklahoma River, budgeted at $11.5 million, that would fund a pedestrian bridge and boat landing serving the First Americans Museum (FAM), a low water dam to retain water east of Eastern Avenue, a community stage near the FAM, and improvements to the riverbank and other public lands along the river.
The package also includes community gardens ($500,000), outdoor basketball and pickleball courts ($500,000), placemaking at Lake Stanley Draper in southeast Oklahoma City ($2.5 million), renovation of Booker T. Washington Park in northeast Oklahoma City ($5 million), a pavilion and other improvements at Minnis Lakeview Park ($500,000), enhancements to Northeast Community Center ($2 million), and the four new parks which will cost a total of $10 million.
Another $16.5 million will be set aside for an operating fund to provide for the operations and maintenance of these park improvements.