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Photo by Austin Parks and Recreation Department

PARD director estimates $1 million in weather-related damages

Monday, March 1, 2021 by Sean Saldaña

At last week’s Parks and Recreation Board meeting, Parks and Recreation Department Director Kimberly McNeeley presented the most recent director’s report for the department, highlighting PARD’s response to the historic winter storms and the power outages in the region.

According to McNeeley, PARD began opening shelters for Austin’s homeless population as soon as the temperature began to drop.

From Feb. 11-20, Northwest, South Austin, Givens, and Dittmar recreation centers operated cold-weather shelters, hosting approximately 60 guests around the clock. Throughout the week, department staff distributed meals, snacks and coffee to guests. According to the report, the guests were so grateful for the hospitality, they “offered to help with chores” around the facilities “to show their gratitude.”

In addition, the department made sure to keep an eye on the city’s aging population. McNeeley said PARD conducted more than 1,000 wellness checks on senior citizens through the storm and distributed food and water to around 500 people.

McNeeley also made a point of underscoring the department’s response to one of the city’s endangered animal populations: salamanders.

“We also had individuals staying overnight at the Nature and Science Center to take care of the animals and also ensure that our salamanders … (were cared for in an) appropriate way,” she said.

As with many other organizations, the harsh weather conditions have created a number of costly problems for the department.

McNeeley estimates that the parks system suffered “at least a million dollars of repairs” due to broken pipes, although a full assessment of the impact is still underway. As the city continues to recover, it’s possible the scope of damages may be larger than initial estimates.

The report also featured a number of findings and updates around PARD projects, budgeting and community engagement events.

The department has incurred costs of around $3 million related to the pandemic response. Despite that, PARD is continuing to fill essential vacant positions while limiting spending around travel, training, promotions and awards.

Due to budget constraints and continued risk, the department is only recruiting for 38 of its 95 vacancies, focused primarily on operational needs. The report also indicates that the city’s HR department is working to provide coronavirus vaccines for critical infrastructure employees.

One financial bright spot in the report: golf.

Over the last three months, city golf courses have seen “record-breaking attendance.” Golf Enterprise Fund revenue is up 32 percent compared to the same time frame last year.

The department is also happy to report a number of maintenance updates citywide.

Among numerous other developments: The Butler Pitch and Putt Golf Course is nearing completion on renovations, ADA bathroom installations and an outdoor arbor improvement. The Dottie Jordan Recreation Center is on the final stretch of a remodel that includes new kitchen cabinets and counters. Barton Springs Pool is set to undergo tree maintenance that includes pedestrian clearance, deadwood removal and trimming inside the fence at the pool.

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