Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia City Park: An Inclusive Park for Everyone Even the Legislature Thinks Is a Good Idea 

Yesterday evening's town hall meeting about the proposed Columbia City Inclusive Park was attended by about 50 people. Everyone had a chance to be heard. Ms. Frisina explained that the park would be accessible and inclusive for everyone.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – For a little over an hour last night about 50 residents attended a town hall meeting in the Columbia City public school cafeteria to discuss the plans for the proposed Columbia City Inclusive County Park. While there was some discussion of politics, boat ramps, and a local fire station, no one opposed the project.

After an introduction by District 5's Commissioner Scarlet Frisina, Assistant County Manager Kevin Kirby gave a brief rundown of the project's construction tasks and their associated costs.

The County brass attended: Asst. Cnty Manager Kevin Kirby, Cnty Manger Ben Scott, Grants Man David Kraus. (left to right)

After obtaining some missing data, the Observer ran the numbers.

The total cost of the park, which includes the value of the donated land and various cash and in-kind services from the County is $875,853. If the County's grant application is successful, the state will provide $437,926.50 (50% of the total cost) and Columbia County would provide an additional cash contribution of $190,426.50.

David Kraus: The Grant Man

David Kraus addressed the attendees without having to read the PowerPoint to them.

The County's Grant Man, David Kraus, explained the meaning of FRDAP, the acronym of the grant for which the County is applying: Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program. Mr. Kraus said that for the first time the Florida legislature approved an additional $3 million to be used in building park facilities for "individuals with unique abilities."

The grant is facilitated through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

He said that the park facilities must be inclusive and ADA accessible. The County can apply for a maximum of $500,000 with a 50% match. The application is due August 17. This is the first time this grant has ever been offered.

Mr. Kraus concluded, "If the County wishes to proceed, I will have the grant application ready for the August 17 deadline."

The public weighed in. Everyone had their chance.
This is why there are town hall meetings.

Residents and candidates attended the town hall meeting.

Columbia City resident Jimbo Haley weighed in, "A lot of people in the area have a lot of property. For instance, my kids -- they want to play -- they have 5 or 6 acres. Why here? Is it more than just you wanting to build it here because there isn't one here, or what?"

Ms. Frisina answered, "There is absolutely nothing in this area for a family, adults, or individuals to go for recreation. If you live here you're out of luck. You have to go somewhere else in the County."

Columbia City resident Ann Foster added, "I have a lot of property and a small swing set. I don't have that kind of equipment that I think a child needs, especially a child with special needs."

Jim Beckman raised his children in Columbia City, "I'd love to see a park here. This part of the County has been forgotten about for so long. I'm excited about the pavilion and a nature trail. I don't have small children anymore. They're grown, but I love the concept. It's something that the County needs. Both of my kids went to school here. I'm a Columbia City man."

After some general conversation about boat ramps and an abandoned mine, Jimbo Haley weighed back in, "One more thing. Just to let you know. This does look like [you're] politicizing this just because this is an election year."

Ms. Frisina answered, "OK."

Mr. Haley followed up, "I just wanted you to know that."

Mr. Beckman disagreed, "I disagree with that. My County commissioner's supposed to take a year off because it's an election year?"

Mr. Haley answered, "I'm not saying that she is. I am saying that it looks like it."

Mr. Beckman responded, "It looks like some of her opponents are trying to make it look like that. That's what it looks like."

Ms. Frisina explained, "Mr. Haley. I understand what you're saying. I'm running for an election and I am trying to get something done, but I can't stop working just because it's an election."

Mr. Haley agreed.

Mr. Frisina continued, "I've been working on it for three years. You've seen the timeline. Things are falling into place. I appreciate your comments. I can't do anything about the fact that it may look like that."

While not opposing the park, long time resident Charles Peeler said, "We need a fire department. We need a manned fire depart here before we need a playground."

The Proposed Park: 5 minutes from the Interstate

Your reporter asked, "The park is only about 5 miles from the interstate. Is the County going to make any effort to make this friendly towards people that are driving down the interstate and introduce people to Columbia County?"

Ms. Frisina answered, "As far as making it friendly, having the facility itself is inviting." She added that it would be advertised on the County website and information would be available on social media.

William Connor drove from the other side of the County to attend the meeting. "I just want to add on a personal note, as far as the word spreading -- from personal experience -- if it comes, people will come, because the closest one to this County is over an hour away. We have St. Augustine. We have south of Ocala, as far as the playground. I know the rest of it is important too, but as far as a playground, the closest one is over an hour away."

Your reporter followed up, "Is that an ADA playground?"

Mr. Connor answered, "No, inclusive. It's a big difference – a humungous difference."

Mrs. Connor added, "People will look for those."

Ms. Frisina added, "If you are someone that looks for an inclusive playground or facility then the word gets out."

Your reporter asked Mr. Connor, "So you think this is a good idea?"

Mr. Connor answered, "I think this is an awesome idea."

Mrs. Connor followed up, "Oh yeah. It's a tremendous idea."

Mr. Connor said, "Columbia County -- Get on the map with it. Be the first in this area."

Finally, an unidentified person added, "We've had the land donated to us. Let's make this thing happen. Let's do what it takes. It's a positive thing. It's the right thing."


It is now up to the Grants Man, David Kraus.

If Mr. Kirby's numbers, the ones that didn't make it into the town hall presentation, are honest and reasonable, Columbia City and Columbia County seem to stand a good chance of grant success when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection rates the responses.

If awarded, the final decision will be up to the County 5.

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