2 Gretna ballparks OK’d to get new lights

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Councilman Milton Crosby at looks over the lighting Wednesday at KnightÕs Corner playground in McDonoghville. Crosby has led an effort to secure working lights for the playground. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Councilman Milton Crosby at looks over the lighting Wednesday at KnightÕs Corner playground in McDonoghville. Crosby has led an effort to secure working lights for the playground.

Gretna Chief Administrative Officer Josh Hawkins said that when he first saw Knight’s Corner playground in McDonoghville, it reminded him of Wrigley Field in Chicago. While Hawkins’ eyesight might need to be checked, both Knight’s Corner and J.B. Spencer playgrounds in Gretna are slated for major-league improvements that the city hopes will spark a surge in adult recreation.

The Gretna City Council agreed earlier this month to spend nearly $400,000 to install new lights at the two playgrounds, which had their lighting damaged during Hurricane Katrina. Hawkins hopes to have the work bid out by the end of the year and the lights installed by the summer.

Gretna officials have discussed installing lights at Knight’s Corner and J.B. Spencer for years, but those efforts were always stymied by the cost of the project. The city’s capital improvement dollars have been tied up in projects such as its $5.7 million multipurpose center and improvements to its sewer system. Although officials acknowledged the need to repair the damage caused by the storm, it was considered a low priority project.

Councilman Milton Crosby has tried to set aside his discretionary dollars for the project, and has spent $80,000 to get engineering and design work done. But the deal really took off once the city secured community development block grants and Federal Emergency Management Agency funding that totaled about $265,000. That money was combined with discretionary funding from Crosby, Mayor Ronnie Harris and Councilman Wayne Rau along with money from the recreation department.

Crosby said he’s been pushing city officials to take action because he saw the need in his district. He noticed that projects were being done in other council districts, but his district seemed to be left out.

“I don’t know if it was a priority until I started pushing it,” Crosby said. “I’m trying to look out for my community area. … We need recreation. People in the community are always asking me.”

Hawkins said the city plans to install wooden poles and standard recreation-level lights at J.P. Spencer Park, which is on Fried Street. However, Knights Corner will get fiberglass poles and high school competition-level lights. He said those poles have to be specially made, which is why the city doesn’t expect the project to be completed until July or August.

Knight’s Corner, which is on Madison Street, could become a home field for a West Bank high school, Hawkins said. In addition, the city would like to have both parks used for adult softball, cabbage ball and kickball leagues. The city’s recreation department has been discussing an expansion of its adult offering for months, and the new playgrounds would fit neatly into that plan. Adults would be charged a small fee to help with league expenses.

The city’s plans to improve the parks received mixed reviews from nearby residents. William Perkins Jr. lives across from the park, and like Crosby, he can remember going there to play as a child. He was excited to hear that the city will be installing lights because it will mean more activity and use at the facility.

He hopes it may keep some young people off the streets and out of trouble.

“I feel elated,” Perkins said. “I used to play ball out there.”

But Frank Lapeyrolerie has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years and was disappointed that the city was spending so much money on lights. Lapeyrolerie said it will be good for the parks, but he questioned the city’s priorities when there are streets in the community that need resurfacing and grass that needs to be cut more regularly.

“It would be a good thing, but they need to take care of other things before putting lights up,” he said.