The Orange City Council held a public hearing Tuesday, Feb. 10, to discuss the proposed rehabilitation and revamp of Navy Park at 511 Morrell Blvd. in the historic Navy District in Orange. According to information presented by Grants Planner Sandra Wilson at the Feb. 10 meeting, the city’s intent is to create a safe, attractive and child-friendly neighborhood park in the low-income area utilizing Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Wilson said the proposed project is loosely estimated to cost about $150,000, with $105,000 coming from CDBG. The area where the park is to be constructed is within the 100-year floodplain, and Tuesday’s public hearing was necessary as part of the environmental review process mandated by HUD.
“There has been so much reconstruction around Navy Park,” Wilson said in an interview, mentioning new public housing in the neighborhood and that the city resurfaced streets there. “We really needed to update that neighborhood park. It’s been there since 1941. It was actually constructed when there was a Naval base here in Orange. The Navy Park District was built then to accommodate the Navy personnel and the shipyard workers, and the park was built as a neighborhood park for the families of the shipyard workers and Navy personnel. Over the years, it’s kind of fallen into dilapidation and then, when we had the two hurricanes, Rita and Ike, that really finished it off.”
The new design proposed by city staff would replace the concrete slab and its battered basketball goals with a small skate park.
“The city manager got a lot of calls about a skate park, particularly after Beaumont got theirs,” said Wilson. “What we wanted to do was a small skate park where that basketball court is.”
She said the skate park would not be as large as Beaumont’s facility, but she feels it will be a big draw for local youth. Wilson also pointed out that anyone who wants to play basketball could go to Emma Wallace Park, where they have new goals and nets, less than a half mile from Navy Park.
The city removed the picnic table and barbecue pits from the new Navy Park design but added stretch bars, exercise equipment and benches near the walking path. Wilson said when she took time to observe traffic in the park, she noticed the children were not utilizing the picnic tables, and the revamped park would focus primarily on drawing in neighborhood children.
“There are a lot of kids in that area,” Wilson explained. “We wanted to do this designed around elementary and middle school ages.”
In addition to the other changes, the city hopes to repurpose the baseball field at the park and create two soccer fields. The play area that was destroyed during Hurricane Rita is to be replaced, and a small “squirt area” water feature is in the proposed design. The parking lot is to be enlarged, and ADA parking spaces will be available. The park will be upgraded so all items meet ADA compliance.
Councilman Charles Guillory expressed concern regarding the proximity of the park to Cooper’s Gully since children would be playing at the park adjacent to the open drainage ditch. Wilson responded that the play areas, skate park and exercise equipment would be located at a distance from the gully. In a phone interview, she said there has not been an incident or accident reported in relation to the park’s proximity to the gully since the park was built in 1941. She also noted that the planned positioning of the equipment keeps it out of the floodway.
In e-mail correspondence, she explained that city of Orange building official and floodplain manager and parks manager Richard Melancon worked together to ensure the safety of the equipment that is to be installed and, more importantly, the safety of the children who will be utilizing the park.
“All equipment will be located well out of the floodway and the park designed to draw children away from the ditch to play in the center of the park,” Wilson asserted.
Orange resident Larry Spears Jr. spoke in favor of the park rehabilitation during citizen comments on Feb. 10.
“I am here today to encourage this movement,” Spears said regarding the Navy Park endeavor. “I think the project is a wonderful opportunity. It will be a positive impact as well as a major step toward the direction of growth. Navy Park and its surrounding area is full and rich with history, and I believe we should capitalize on this wonderful opportunity to revitalize the park as well as making it ADA-accessible and more inviting to youth and local citizens to use.”
Spears commended the City Council for the plan and said the park would provide “positive and uplifting” activity opportunities for the youth it serves.
Bids will be accepted after the environmental review is completed pending HUD’s final approval.