EAST TAMPA — More than two years ago residents met with city officials to craft a master plan to revamp Fair Oaks Park. The hope then was to replace the park’s nearly 40-year-old community center with a new, updated facility.
But since then, there has been little progress. And after getting mentions in past city budgets as a potential project, the item has dropped from sight. No tax dollars have been set aside for upgrades in the city’s proposed 2014 budget.
“It needs to be torn down like yesterday,” said Essie Sims Jr., chairman of the East Tampa Community Revitalization Partnership, a volunteer group that advises city officials on redevelopment efforts in the East Tampa area.
At 10 a.m. Thursday at council’s weekly meeting Greg Bayor, the city’s parks and recreation director, is scheduled to update council members about the status of the park, at 5019 N. 34th St.
“We recognize the facility is tired,” Bayor said. But it is not the only one in need of attention, and Bayor’s department is operating on a “shoe string and a cobweb” until Oct. 1 when the new fiscal year begins, he said. City council is expected to approve the 2014 budget in September.
An assessment of all the city’s park structures, similar to a 2011 study of its aquatic facilities, is needed, Bayor said. “We need some logical order to this,” he said.
At an undetermined date, Bayor said more public meetings will be held to restart the process of designing a new Fair Oaks community center. “There are a lot of issues,” he said.
Problems with the aging facility are easy to spot: peeling paint; missing floor tiles, a hole in the wall and a missing ceiling tile with wires dangling in the multi-purpose room; permanent stains and nicks in flooring throughout the building; and cracks on a kitchen counter.
Residents gathering to celebrate a birthday couldn’t pry open the refrigerator’s freezer door, which was missing a handle.
Squirrels and other small animals at times have found their way in through the roof. Employees say they scurry along a gutter that was encased in the ceiling when the building was expanded in 1985. In one instance, a rank smell alerted them to a pregnant opossum that had crawled inside and died.
Bayor said rodent traps have been set at Fair Oaks. It is an issue found at some other facilities as well, he said.
According to a 1985 news article, the community center was built in 1975 and doubled in size to about 3,500 square feet a decade later. City officials peg the size today as about 8,000 square feet. It has a multi-purpose room, a weight/exercise room, a small kitchen, an office, bathrooms, storage space and a study room with six computers.
Outside there are cracks in the basketball court, a ball field not much more than a sand lot and an open field.
Some repairs and general sprucing up are planned but the focus, Bayor said, will be on improving and adding programs not new construction.
In its nearly four decades, the center has been a gathering place in a tight-knit community. On Monday the park was filled with dozens of children, ages 4 to 15, doing practice drills for the Rattlers’ football teams. More children crowded the playground.
Ariel Montgomery, 28, came to the park as a child; now she brings her 6-year-old daughter, Amiyah Godwin, and 2-year-old nephew, Avion Montgomery.
“It’s nice,” she said. “The same kids have been coming here year after year.”
Residents began pushing for a new facility in 2011 when city officials held meetings to gather public input.
Evangeline Best, former East Tampa partnership chairwoman, said residents believed the project would move forward from there. “It really needs to have something done,” Best said.
If the city has plans based on those two-year-old meetings, then Sims said, “They don’t need to re-invent the wheel.”
Bayor said there is some information available, suggesting an expansion to 10,000 or 12,000 square feet. But he said, “It hasn’t been fleshed out.”
Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick said the Iorio administration initially placed Fair Oaks on the list of potential candidates to receive city funding.
“They had made promises to the community they were going to renovate the park,” he said. “If something is not done soon, they will be condemning the park — the building at least.”