MARCO ISLAND — Marco Island loves its parks, and the many activities that take place in them. If there is a problem in the area of parks and recreation, that’s it – the island’s citizens may be loving the parks to death.
At the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee meeting on Tuesday afternoon, held in the Niles conference room at City Hall, the committee heard from parks and rec staff about the programs going on in city parks, both recently held and upcoming. There are a host of these, and almost without exception, they are heavily attended, particularly during this time of year.
One of the most recent was a new event, the Community Health Fair, held Saturday at Mackle Park. Teen leader Lola Dial said it drew 600 visitors, but Community Services Director Bryan Milk estimated the number at over 1,000.
“We had every air-conditioned space full of exhibitors, and they were spilling out into the parking lot,” said Milk. The fair provided a good example, said committee member Greg West, of how limited space is in the city’s park system.
“It was so successful, we’re already planning for next year,” said Dial. Finding space and available time in a facility may be a challenge. Mackle Park hosts concerts, movies, mah jongg, bridge, and canasta, political meetings, formal teas, street dances, a wide variety of children’s programs, and classes in tai chi, women’s self-defense and cooking, along with regular individual and team sports, an upcoming model sailboat regatta, and the city’s massive Easter egg hunt.
Committee chairman Paul Meyer drew a connection between two activities, classes on knife sharpening and the women’s self-defense.
“Have we done something wrong?” he joked.
A similar situation exists on the parks and rec athletic fields, where it is challenging to find time for workers to keep up the facilities, working around the heavy usage schedules.
“The big problem is we can’t get on the fields. We’ve backed off on maintenance,” said recreation supervisor Alex Galiana, “because the fields are packed. Our guys get there at 7 or 7:30 in the morning, just to get the fields ready.” With three separate baseball teams on the island, and soccer practice going year ’round, the fields are showing the effect of constant use, he said.
“We closed up the top half of the one soccer field to give it a break,” said Galiana. Baseball fields should be raked and watered, “even ripped up a little” after games, he said. Milk confirmed that school and other groups who share the athletic fields are paying the city for the privilege, as they are supposed to, but the issue is constant use.
“Our facilities are being used like crazy,” he said. Rather than sounding an alarm, though, both staff and committee members focused on how best to work under existing conditions.
Milk reported to the committee how he and Meyer had met with the Marco Island Homeowners’ Association on February 17 to address their questions concerning the need for the new community center budgeted for Mackle Park. While a 20,000 square foot, two-story facility had been recommended to replace the existing 8,000 square foot center, plans have been scaled back, he said.
“The current building proposal as we move forward is a one-story building including a maximum building square footage of 16,500 s.f. of air-conditioned space,” said Milk’s report. “The Community Center will not provide an indoor gymnasium or walking track.” Those items, Milk told the advisory board, would be added in an unspecified Phase Two, “sometime in the future.”
The cost for the new one-story 16,500 square foot center, he said, is $3 million, and the business plan for the facility will include a leaseback payment program and proposed park revenue. The bottom line, he told the homeowners’ association, this “will not increase your taxes.”
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board’s next meeting is scheduled for March 20.