Park sales tax extension would allow for Cosmo Park improvements

Father and daughter play at Cosmo Park

COLUMBIA — Regina Tavarez and her daughters, Sierra, 8, and Lucy, 5, spent a sunny Wednesday afternoon at Cosmopolitan Park. Tavarez took some quiet time to read while her daughters enjoyed the array of playground equipment. They couldn't have asked for better conditions; it was a beautiful day and the playground had not yet been filled with the after-school crowd.

Meanwhile, Adam and Erin Bethel watched their 1-year-old daughter, Sophie, closely while she ran around a playground structure, climbing stairs, hitting the slides and trying the teeter-totter with her dad.

These families and thousands more who enjoy Cosmopolitan Recreation Area could see changes at the city's biggest park if voters approve an extension of a one-eighth cent parks sales tax on the Nov. 2 ballot. Plans call for $775,000 worth of improvements if the issue passes.

The proposed five-year extension of the tax would generate a total of about $12 million.

The largest chunk of the money targeted for Cosmo Park would go toward a $500,000 renovation of the Steinberg Playground.

“We have a huge playground in Cosmo Park, probably our most popular and largest playground,” Park Services Manager Mike Griggs said, adding that the city plans to bring the area up to national safety codes and to make it more suitable for people with disabilities.

"All of our playgrounds are in compliance with the American with Disabilities Act," he said in an e-mail, "but we can exceed those requirements and make the playground universally accessible by adding more ADA-approved play equipment and replace the wood fiber with an all accessible poured-in-place rubber surface."

Another $150,000 would go toward lighting two fields at the park that are used for lacrosse and football. Griggs said people have told the city they want the fields lit.

Cosmo Park would also be in line for a new restroom. Currently, there are portable toilets scattered around the park. A permanent bathroom would eliminate those. Griggs said the parks department hasn't decided on a precise location for the bathroom, but he figures it will be centrally located, near the soccer and football fields.

"We would try to set one that would help eliminate some of the need for all these port-o-pots and have a nice place where (people) can wash their hands and everything else," Griggs said.

Columbia Youth Football League President Chad Henry advocated for a permanent restroom in a previous Missourian story.

"We have 700 children, so that's 700 families that are out there, and the restrooms and facilities ... are something that is definitely needed," he said.

The bathroom project would cost about $125,000 but would save the city money in the long run, Griggs said. A portable toilet costs about $100 per month, so the construction of a permanent bathroom facility would cut out that cost.

The Bethels said they'd like to see the city put more trash cans in Cosmo Park and fix a railing on the playground's wooden bridge. Tavarez said she'd like to see more lights on the playground so children could play into the evening.

Shae Collier, who came to the playground Wednesday with her 2-year-old daughter, Yanni, knew about the renewable parks sales tax and said she favors it. She said she likes the idea of making the playground more accessible. She'd also like to see more drinking fountains and more equipment for older children.

Dan Devine, a member of the Friends of Columbia's Parks committee that is promoting the ballot issue, said one strength of the Columbia parks' staff is that it listens to the public. He said people can come to the department with their wish lists and have them acknowledged.

The city actually has two one-eighth cent taxes for parks. One is permanent and covers the Parks and Recreation Department's annual budget and the long-term debt that comes with purchasing parkland.

The other, which voters have the chance to extend for five years, is used primarily for capital improvements. It will expire on March 11 if voters decline to renew it.

The city has developed a website with more information about the tax and a list of projects it plans to complete if it passes.

Missourian reporter Sarah Horn contributed to this report.

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