Council votes to keep Clarke Park closed until final stages of construction are completed

By Wesley LeBlanc wesley@opcfla.com
Posted 7/21/21

ORANGE PARK – From Kingsley Avenue, Clarke Park may look ready to reopen, but the Town Council opted not to open early because there still are some key features that need to be installed.

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Council votes to keep Clarke Park closed until final stages of construction are completed

Posted

ORANGE PARK – From Kingsley Avenue, Clarke Park may look ready to reopen, but the Town Council opted not to open early because there still are some key features that need to be installed.

Town Manager Sarah Campbell said the park is, essentially, ready for play. All of the installed features are safe, secure and inspected and for all intents and purposes, Clarke Park is once again actually a park. However, its fence and sidewalk have not yet been installed and after deliberation during the July 20 Orange Park Town Council meeting, the council opted to keep it closed until those two features are installed.

“The play elements are done,” Campbell told the council Tuesday night. “All the playground pieces are done and in place. They’re safe and secure and they’ve been inspected. There are some outstanding pieces though: benches and trash cans are expected to arrive the first week of August and the current projection on the fence for the playground itself is Aug. 4-6 and it will take three to five days to install the fence, and once that is in, we have to do some sidewalk work.”

Campbell asked the council for some direction on whether the park should be opened so residents can enjoy the park now or if it should remain closed until the originally planned grand opening next month. The council voted 4-1 to keep it closed, with council member John Hauber dissenting.

Mayor Randy Anderson asked Campbell if opening the park now would require it to close again before the grand opening. Campbell said the park would likely need to be closed for a couple of days to install the sidewalk.

Vice Mayor Eddie Henley questioned the safety of the park at this point without the fence and sidewalk, citing that opening it early only makes a difference of 10 days or so, and council member Alan Watt agreed.

“I completely agree with councilman Henley,” Watt said. “In an abundance of caution, not having the fence puts everyone at risk because the whole point of the fence is to help parents do a better job keeping an eye on their kids...and without that fence, they’re going to go everywhere and that puts a liability on us. The fence is a big deal and I would be very concerned about opening that wide to the public without that fence.”

Hauber said the town has spent more than $700,000 on the park and that it should be opened for play before children go back to school. He said once children are back in school, they’ll have less opportunity to use the playground compared to now while they’re on summer break.

Several residents shared their opinions. One said she doesn’t want her tax dollars used in a lawsuit if the town is sued by a parent if something happens to their child if it’s opened early. She said there are plenty of other parks around Orange Park and Clay County and if they need to use a park, they should find one of them until Clarke Park is fully ready.

Another resident said the town council shouldn’t just think of the children, but people with disabilities, too. She said the lack of a sidewalk poses a safety risk for those with disabilities.

On the other hand, one resident said the park hasn’t had sidewalks for 30 years so the Town Council shouldn’t be so concerned. He said children have been cooped up all summer due to COVID-19, and an early opening before school begins would be a positive thing by the council.

But the council voted to keep it closed until the grand opening with a 4-1 vote.

In other business, the Town Council has begun to deliberate how the town will tackle the new $15 minimum wage law. Campbell presented them with four options. The first is to adjust the minimum wages for those not at $15, which would cost the town roughly $18,000 to bring 14 employees to the $15 level.

The second option is to increase everyone’s wage by the same percentage so if the employees under $15 an hour receive a 33% pay increase to hit $15 an hour, everyone else will receive that same 33% increase. The third option sees it tackled by a dollar amount so if an employee goes from $14 an hour to $15 an hour, everyone will receive an extra dollar an hour.

The fourth and final option is a three-tier system, she said. Lower-paid workers might receive the biggest pay increase by percentage, middle-tier paid workers might receive a smaller percentage increase and those making the most already will receive an even smaller percentage increase.

“So you’re staggering increases to provide more for people who make less,” Campbell said.

The town council didn’t have to vote on an option Tuesday night, but it did request that Campbell create financial reports for each option so they can evaluate the costs. This will likely be an ongoing discussion as the council determines how best to move forward in bringing all of its employees under $15 an hour up to the new minimum wage.

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