‘Imagine Your Parks’ on track for improvements citywide
State officials recently approved $13 million in borrowing that will keep East Baton Rouge Parish’s park system on track with improvements.
The bonds are the final segment of the “Imagine Your Parks” program that voters set in motion eight years ago by approving a 3.25-mill property tax. A millage rate determines how much in taxes must be paid per $1,000 of property value.
BREC expects to spend more than $101 million on capital improvements.
Soccer and ballfields already are in place at Burbank Park. Dogs can romp at Forest Community Park. A rock climbing tower can be scaled at Perkins Road Community Park.
At Independence Community Park off Independence Boulevard, a sensory garden and iris garden are complete. A parking lot will become more garden space. Once the neighboring main library is complete, work will start on a cafe, plaza and teaching garden.
“It’s going to be so much better when we finish. It’s going to start to knit together,” said Ted Jack, assistant superintendent for BREC.
Claire Fontenot, of Baton Rouge, spends 30 hours a week as a volunteer at the Independence Community Park. On a recent weekday morning, she divided irises to the sound of construction in the background. She began volunteering at the park in 2000.
“When I started, there were a row of daylilies there and that was it,” she said of the park’s evolution.
Other finishing touches at parks across the parish include:
- A grand pavilion for the Highland Road Community Park.
- A playground for Zachary Community Park.
- An education building at Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center.
Borrowing money ahead of revenue collections allows the parish to take advantage of low interest rates and keep the improvements moving at a steady pace.
Last year, BREC bought the final piece of land for a 400-acre park in the northeast corner of the parish. The park will be called Sandy Creek.
The intent of the “Imagine Your Parks” program was to improve neighborhood parks and to substantially improve community parks. Unlike neighborhood parks, community parks are designed to serve a larger area.
BREC developed 12 community parks — nine from existing parks and three entirely new parks. The parks generally have a theme, such as the “extreme sports” theme at Perkins Road Community Park. The Independence Community Park includes an aquatics center, tennis courts, soccer fields, botanic gardens, a walking trail and theater.
Sandy Creek will be the final community park in the package.
Jack said the plan is to have a trail for horses and mountain bikes, and perhaps a man-made lake for fishing.
“It’s out in the country and rural,” he said.
Also in the works is a 7.4-mile trail system that will connect Essen Lane, the Perkins Road Park, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the LSU Rural Life Museum and Perkins Rowe. The first phase, aided by private donations, will be a 2.2-mile section from the Mall of Louisiana to Picardy Bridge then to Siegen Lane.
Construction at Independence Community Park likely will be ongoing for months to come.
First, the new main library must be completed. Then, the old library must be demolished.
Once that work is finished, construction can begin on a sandwich shop, the plaza, stage area and teaching garden.
Jack said he hopes the teaching garden will be a draw for master gardeners, weddings and meetings.
By 2014, he said, the construction tied to the “Imagine Your Parks” program will draw to a close, 10 years after it started.