While plans for a proposed new city skatepark near the Clearwater Arena await possible future funding, the city of Sarnia has decided to refurbish the existing Harry Turnbull, although City Council extensively debated the issue at its meeting on Monday.
In the end, council went with staf recommendations, which includes spending $3,000 for a landscape architect to develop a plan for park enhancements.
All in all, the city plans to spend another $27,000 on work to be budgeted in 2012. That would include spending $8,000 for better drainage of the area, a $15,000 protective surface to increase user safety, and $4,000 for benches and garbage cans.
In the meantime, the city will also lower curfew times for the park to a standard 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
It will also investigate the installation of a children's playground in the local area to offer additional neighbourhood playground facilities.
The changes were said to have come out of a March 23 public information session.
Neighbour Paul Whitfield spoke to councillors about his concerns, most of which are related to the existing 10 p.m. curfew and the failure of police to respond adequately to complaints about the use of the park after that time.
"Curfews don't work," said Whitfield. "The police don't respond because it's a low priority for them and if they do, those that are stopped aren't obligated to give their names to police."
Councillor Mike Kelch, who moved the motion to approve staff recommendations, agreed that enforcement is an issue. At the same time, he said dismantling the skatepark isn't going to solve the problem. "The truth is, we have not treated the park with the focus that it needs. If you view it like I do, as a gem that we've allowed to become tarnished, it's worth the money to fix it. I cannot in good conscience remove facility for youth that's been there as long as it has."
City staff later said they would work with police to see if the park can be made a higher priority.
Councillor Bev MacDougall, who lives in the area, agreed that the park has potential and that reaching out to all members of the local community through such a facility is important.
"We learned a great lesson in improving what became McGibbon Park, that in instills community pride, and not just with adults. If kids feel people value their contribution, you'll see results."
MacDougall also said she hoped the landscape architect hired would look at incorporating activities for older residents, such as a community garden.
But Councillor Dave Boushy, who did not vote for the changes, said the city should focus instead on getting a new skatepark, even though the original Trillium Foundation application was not approved, possibly due to the city not having approved the lease on the Clearwater Arena land in time for processing. Officials expect the application to be resubmitted by the next deadline, which is Nov. 1.
Boushy also suggested a new skatepark might make an excellent project for the city's 2014 Centennial. "The problem with a 30-year-old skatepark is that even if you spend the money refurbishing it, you're still left with a 30-year-old facility."