By Richard Smith
The Surprise City Council has again used surplus funds to check off a long-discussed upgrade to the city’s parks system.
Two weeks previous the city spent $1.2 million total on turf and fencing for Surprise Farms Community Park, eight new pickleball courts and shade canopies for several parks.
March 7, the council unanimously approved a $300,000 expense on constructing a permanent fence around the 8 Acre Park fields just north of Surprise Stadium.
“We all agree that this is something that is long overdue,” Councilman Roland Winters said.
Surprise will build an 8-foot-tall decorative fence that is almost identical in look and height to the fencing around the stadium.
Designs call for six rolling gates, one swing gate and the main gate — a double rolling gate. Annual maintenance is estimated at $8,000.
Councilman Ken Remley said he was initially taken back by the cost and asked how much could be saved with a shorter fence.
“This fence is, in my experience, the most expensive fence that I’ve heard of,” Councilman Remley said.
He also said, however, that the city is lucky no one has been hurt. When told lowering the fence from 8 to 6 feet would shave $15,000-$20,000 off the project, Mr. Remley did not inquire further.
City staff said the park typically has more than a thousand people practicing or playing baseball and flag football most weekends. Soccer is rarely played at 8 Acre because of the tendency of the ball to fly out of the playing field.
Councilman John Williams said he likes the park’s open look but understands the fence is like insurance — you do not buy it because you have been in an accident.
He asked, though, if the budget surplus money spent on this and the other recent projects could have covered one of the bigger ticket items included on the failed 2016 bond election.
“All of these projects have merit. My concern is that we had a prioritized list that went forward for the bond. We haven’t revisited that yet,” Councilman Williams said.
While safety concerns dominated the discussion and the decision to add a fence, maintenance and money also factor in.
Several times, drivers have done a “donut” on the field, forcing replacement of the turf. A fence will also make it easier to close the park for overseeding and routine maintenance.
Also, the park’s size and proximity to the civic center and other attractions make it ideal for hosting additional ticketed events, which could boost Surprise’s tourism revenue.
“I really feel we’ve had some events that we’ve passed on because we couldn’t do tickets,” said Councilman Skip Hall, who brought the agenda item forward.
Longtime CRS advisory committee member Mike Planeta said this item has been on the committee’s wish list for years. As a Phoenix firefighter for nearly three decades, Mr. Planeta has witnessed tragedies and near misses firsthand — both in Surprise and Phoenix.
He still remembers the 4-year-old attending his older brother’s Little League game. The child kept bothering his father, asking him if he could go home and the dad eventually said yes.
“This little guy ran across 51st Avenue just south of Bell Road and was hit by a motor home. I worked on this little guy who was the same age as my son and looked like my son (at the time). The first thing I did when I got to the hospital was to call my wife and ask to talk to my son, Mikey.” Mr. Planeta said. “The last time I came up here and talked about this, the next day I was talking to the gentleman that was the director of the water department about another issue. I went by the 8 acres and a little boy ran across right in front of me chasing his ball with another car behind me and another car coming in the other direction. It’s just a matter of time before something serious happens.”