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Parks board to reconsider request to OK parkland for Dove Springs health center

Monday, September 9, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

The city’s Parks and Recreation Board will hold a special meeting Tuesday to reconsider a request to use city parkland in Southeast Austin for the site of a new community health center.

The special session is a follow-up to last month’s meeting where concerns over giving up 2.6 acres of Dove Springs District Park, and questions over how much money will be set aside for the future purchase of replacement parkland, caused the board to vote to delay its approval. Staff from the Public Works Department and Austin Health Department said the delay could add months to the delivery schedule for the $12 million facility, which is expected to open in 2023 and has become a priority for leaders in the underserved community.

Since the last meeting, the city has increased the amount of land mitigation funding to $388,000 from the $181,000 figure that drew questions over the methods Parks and Recreation Department staff used to calculate property values in the area.

Up to $150,000 in mitigation money will be used to make improvements to a soccer field and to trails in the rest of the park property, with that amount coming from the $16 million in total bond money allocated for the health center. The remaining $238,000 from the health department’s general fund balance from the current budget year will be used to purchase future replacement property in the area that will be converted into parkland.

If the parks board approves the request at Tuesday’s meeting, the issue is expected to face quick approval when it comes before City Council on Sept. 19.

Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza said she and other District 2 leaders were surprised at the parks board’s decision since most had assumed the request wouldn’t generate much discussion or opposition. Garza has sought to fast-track the clinic because it will provide a host of preventive health care and other community services that are currently available only on a limited basis in the areas surrounding Dove Springs.

“I understand that board is specifically focused on parks, but my hope is that they take a broad look at the issue and understand the need that exists there,” she said. “There’s a high need to provide all kinds of services in one place, and public health is really a difficult situation when you’re trying to serve people out of a school, at Mendez (Middle School).”

Garza said she expects many community members to attend the meeting Tuesday to speak in support of the center and the benefits it would provide for the Dove Springs area.

When it opens, the 23,000-square-foot neighborhood center will provide a community nurse, basic food pantry, clothes closet, and on-site social workers and other staff to assist visitors with job applications, securing bus passes and signing up for other service programs. It will also include an immunization clinic for adults and children, a WIC clinic for mothers and children, and a child care center.

If Council approves the parkland request later this month, Public Works staff will move ahead with completing the preliminary planning and design documents needed to open a request for qualifications process for firms competing to design and build the center. Council approved the design/build approach in May with the goal of streamlining the procurement process, but there was concern the parks board’s delay could held up the RFQ and add to the time needed to begin construction.

Currently, it is expected permitting and other approvals for the clinic will take more than a year, with construction slated to begin in the summer of 2021.

Given the years of organizing and planning that went into the clinic’s inclusion on last year’s bond vote, Garza said she would like to see a way for the city to further other fast-track projects that address a clear need.

“It has been frustrating to understand the timeline that we have on capital projects like this one, but then again you have to think that we’re the 11th-largest city and growing so fast and that has to all be managed,” she said. “I’ve voiced that frustration several times because we need to be better about streamlining things that have already been identified years ago as being an obvious need for this community.”

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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