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Chad Swiatecki is a 20-year journalist who relocated to Austin from his home state of Michigan in 2008. He most enjoys covering the intersection of arts, business and local/state politics. He has written for Rolling Stone, Spin, New York Daily News, Texas Monthly, Austin American-Statesman and many other regional and national outlets.
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Parks board vote could delay ‘fast-tracked’ health center for Dove Springs
A community health center proposed for the Dove Springs area in Southeast Austin could be delayed by several months after the city’s Parks and Recreation Board voted last week to delay approving the use of parkland to build the long-needed facility.
The 9-2 vote to delay the recommendation to City Council to move ahead with the center came amid questions over the calculations used to determine the mitigation fees for permanent use of 2.6 acres of Dove Springs District Park to build the 16,000-square-foot center. Parks board members also expressed concern over some of the features of the proposed site, including a parking lot that will replace an area currently used as an informal soccer field.
Voters approved bond funding for the $12.4 million facility in December and the project has been put on a “fast track” by Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, whose district includes the area in question, because of a lack of preventive health options in close proximity to Dove Springs.
Earlier this year, Garza and community leaders expressed concern that the center’s projected spring 2023 opening was too far in the future to make a difference for families in the area who have young children in need of vaccinations and other preventive health care procedures.
Kymberley Maddox, an assistant director for the Austin Public Health Department, said 26 percent of the area’s residents live in poverty. In 2017 the health department delivered services to more than 6,300 clients during weekly sessions at the nearby Dove Springs Recreation Center.
Council’s decision to use a design-build approach for the center – intended to speed up projects because one request for proposal (RFP) process is used to select a single company to design and handle construction – is now likely to backfire because of the parks board’s delay.
Maddox explained to the parks board that Council had planned to move ahead with the design-build RFP in September, with an expectation to open that process in October. With the board opting to delay approval until at least its September meeting, Maddox said it is likely the design-build process will be delayed, creating a domino effect that will push back both phases of the project.
“Delaying Council’s decision on this would delay (construction) multiple months and that would have a detrimental impact,” she said. “We have cut every corner, every month and week we can out of the construction schedule to try to deliver this as fast as the mayor pro tem would like us to.”
The most pointed objection came from Board Member Rich DePalma, who questioned the accuracy of the land value and lot size data gathered by the Parks and Recreation Department to calculate the proposed $181,000 land mitigation cost for the parkland.
As part of the recommendation, that money would be used in part to improve a remaining soccer field along with lighting and other improvements to trails through the parkland. The combined improvements are projected to cost nearly $150,000, leaving only $31,000 in reserve to purchase land nearby that would be converted into parkland.
“With the figure for mitigation dollars, there’s lots going into capital improvements and I’m concerned about losing acres of parkland across the city, particularly when there’s parts of Southeast Austin that are park-deficient,” he said. “I’d like to spend time on how we got to the mitigation costs. It would be much more substantive if we had more money to buy more parkland in the same area.”
The board considered splitting the approval question which would have granted an approval but required further data and possibly a higher dollar value for the mitigation question. A motion to split the approval failed, leading to the eventual delay until next month.
“What you’re asking us to do is take some of our precious parkland, which we don’t have that much of, and put a health center on it,” Chair Dawn Lewis said. “I totally understand there’s bond money and a tremendous need for this health center because there’s not another one close. This is a great location and they can take care of everything at once. It’s frustrating you can’t find another spot. I want you to understand why you’ve gotten some pushback here.”
Dove Springs site layout courtesy of the city of Austin.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department: The city department responsible for the city's park system, rec centers, and associated infrastructure.
Dove Springs: Dove Springs is a southeast neighborhood in Austin bordered, roughly, by William Cannon, Ben White, Dove Springs District Park, and IH-35.