About every nine years over the last century, Portlanders have invested in increasing, preserving and maintaining our park system through bonds or levies. Before the 2014 Parks Replacement Bond, the last major bond for Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) was in 1994 – meaning a full 20 years passed without significant bond funding for park improvements or addressing dire repair needs.
In 2014, PP&R faced a precarious outlook for our award-winning park system with a long list of much-needed repairs and limited maintenance funds. At Couch Park in Northwest Portland, the Bureau had to remove the beloved wooden play equipment from the 1970s due to structural issues from rotting wood. A segment of the popular Maple Trail in Forest Park had been closed for several years due to a washed-out bridge, and the restrooms at iconic Mt. Tabor Park’s summit were not usable.
Some maintenance issues were not visible to the average park user. At Grant Pool in Northeast, the maintenance staff worked diligently to keep the antiquated inner workings and mechanical systems operating, with much of the equipment dating to the 1920s and 1940s.
A citywide survey in 2014 identified over 20,000 accessibility barriers that could preclude many people from enjoying the full benefits of our parks and community centers. And PP&R’s major maintenance hubs at Mt. Tabor and Delta Parks were not adequate or safe for staff needs.
In November 2014, PP&R asked for the community’s help in the form of the Parks Replacement Bond, a $68 million bond focused on repair and replacement of the most critical needs in the park system. With a resounding show of support for our shared public spaces, 74 percent of Portlanders said “yes” by voting for this crucial investment. This bond will not address all of PP&R’s maintenance backlog, as we estimate a $450 million funding gap over the next 10 years; but it is a start to ensuring our park system will serve future generations of a growing Portland.
Performance of the Bond
PP&R has now completed the third year of bond-funded projects. We are proud to note that of the 52 projects, 21 are completed, and the remaining 31 are underway. The majority of projects are within the originally defined scope and schedule, and the bond program has followed the promises made in the original ballot language, including establishing a Bond Oversight Committee and soliciting a performance audit. Of the $28.1 million spent so far, only 5.1 percent has gone to administrative costs, which ensures the vast majority of bond funds are spent directly on projects.
Highlights of the completed projects include:
- Major renovations at Lents Park and Ventura Park playgrounds in Southeast, Matt Dishman Pool and Spa in Northeast, the rejuvenated Grant Pool, and Argay Park tennis courts in Northeast;
- A new roof replacing the original 1920s shingles on the Sellwood Pool Bathhouse building, seismic and ADA studies at Multnomah Arts Center in Southwest, new all-weather synthetic turf at Rieke Field in Southwest, and ADA accessibility improvements at the Washington Park Rose Garden; and
- Restroom repairs or replacements at seven parks, new bridges on three popular hiking trails in Forest Park, and a new waterproof membrane to stop water leaks and other critical repairs to better serve the 10 million visitors annually to Pioneer Courthouse Square.
Investment in our local community
Not only is the bond an investment in our park system, it also is a benefit to our local workforce. Of the $23.1 million awarded to construction contracts, 39 percent of those contracts went to disadvantaged, minority, women, and/or emerging small businesses, far exceeding the City of Portland’s goal of 20 percent.
“The bond is a good fit for our members because it gives them the opportunity to work on smaller-scale projects, while opening new doors for future work,” says Nate McCoy, Executive Director of the local chapter of the National Association of Minority Contractors.
Engaging the community in the bond projects
PP&R bond staff have worked hard to ensure that the community is engaged in bond projects and understands how funds are being used. So far, PP&R has held 110 public meetings and 14 celebratory events for bond projects. Over 370 yard and construction signs have been posted around the city to communicate with the public. An interactive map at parksreplacementbond.org shows the status of bond projects scattered citywide. (Check it out to see what’s happening near you).
Bond Oversight Committee member Dion Jordan says, “I love that the [Parks Replacement] Bond is focusing on equity: that there’s access to parks, and that they’re safe. Rich or poor, everyone can afford to go to a park. It’s a place of common ground: a ball rolls by, you give it a kick back ... you’re all there together.”
PP&R’s work around community engagement must reflect our increasingly diverse community’s needs and desires. PP&R staff have involved community engagement liaisons, individuals with ties to the Spanish-speaking, Somali, Vietnamese and Russian communities, to assist with outreach and translation for playground design projects. Project-specific outreach has also been targeted to low-income and disability communities, and open house meetings have been held in conjunction with cultural events such as Summer Free For All concerts and New Year in the Park, a celebration of Cambodian, Laotian, Thai and Burmese cultures.
Lynchview Park Project Advisory Committee member Brian Flores Garcia spoke recently about the design process for a new playground coming to Lynchview, a 7.6-acre park in the Centennial neighborhood of Southeast Portland. “PP&R has done a lot to make sure everyone could participate,” he notes. The coming changes, he says, show PP&R’s commitment to East Portland neighborhoods. “This park will boost the pride of this community.”
As part of PP&R’s transparency efforts for the bond, an annual report is produced each year to share highlights of the work completed, what lies ahead, and how funds are being spent. The summary and full reports are available at parksreplacementbond.org.
Now that we have completed the third year of the bond program, PP&R wants to know what you think. Tell us how transparent we are, how we are doing in communicating with you, and how we can improve. Please complete the survey and enter to win prizes, including community centers passes, at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/PGSMDYT. The survey closes Sept. 30.