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City solutions to persistent park problems, new fields opening soon

Courtesy: KFOX14

This grass isn’t always greener on some the city playing fields.

KFOX 14 took a closer look at why and spoke to the El Paso Parks and Recreation finding the solutions in the works to fix these mounting park problems and complaints from parents and players around town.

There are 178 playing fields across the city each includes fields for baseball, softball, soccer and football.

Little ones like Mia Perez enjoy the parks when they're not on the playing fields with in different leagues and sports teams. Perez plays with the Lady Blue Sox softball team and the girls along with other teams rotate between fields around El Paso for practice and games.

"I like to play at the park, walk the whole thing on my scooter and take my dog to the dog playground," she said, but her teammates chimed in with her on problems they see on the diamond.

Chloe Gutierrez said, "I would draw more the lines on the baseball field so we could see them more."

Elena Guillen said, "How about a cover on the top of the dugout, like roofs because it's really sunny in here and hot."

Parents like Cesar Bueno whose daughter is on the same team as the girls said not all the fields are in the best shape and wishes they would be. "The fields conditions can vary from park to park and field to field. If they could pay a little more attention to the fields that need attention that would help. Of course if you look at the newer parks they're in a lot better condition," he said.

Other players at the parks like Luis Rivera, who plays flag football for fun, points out issues outside of the diamond on the flat fields.

"Not all of them are conditioned well they have mud holes like right over there and a bunch of dirt. There's a lot of weeds and stickers and dirt piles," he said.

All of these are issues Parks are Recreation department assistant director Paula Powell tells KFOX14 she hears about all the time and they're not falling on deaf ears.

"The No. 1 complaint is the conditions of the fields but the second thing is they don't want to get off the fields so we can work on them. That’s why we started with this renovation project so we could name the fields we're closing and work their schedule around that," she said.

Powell tells me they have a regular maintenance schedule, but can't tackle the fields because of this issues and some teams and people not giving the fields a break. Along with this the department has a small group or people that are in charge of keeping the fields green, the lines on the fields fresh and the parks tidy. It's a team Powell hopes to grow with the next budget she's requesting from city council, but says they need the public's help.

"If those are fenced off and closed for renovations just stay out of those areas, you can practice around the fence or on the outside of it. Those areas need to grow so we can open them back up," she said.

As the city continues to grow and more leagues are created juggling the amount of teams is no easy feat because of demands for certain types of fields.

"The hardest part is everyone wants a regulation field and what we're trying to tell people is for practice maybe you don't need one because we don't have enough for everyone so why not practice in some of our open areas," said Powell.

Another solution to help maintain fields and schedules is a permitting process. So far over 600 permits have been pulled for games since May and this permit process will be stricter in 2018 according to Powell so that they can step up the renovation process. They have a grading system in place and close off the fields in need of repairs for six to eight weeks at a time. To ensure no one is knocked out of play they need teams to communicate and pull permits for games. Powell said it's an easy process now and is available online.

There's other solutions in the works to move cleats to other existing fields that aren't city parks. "The biggest question is how am I going to fit all the teams on all the fields and locations. What we're doing is looking at other areas that have fields like the school districts and we're working with all the school’s districts on providing more opportunities after school and on the weekend. We have partnerships with two local districts and are securing one with Socorro Independent School District that could open up thirty more fields," said Powell.

Thanks to the city's quality of life bonds and other projects more fields and a sports complex is coming soon.

"It's exciting we have the eastside sports complex coming on with flat fields, initial phase 8 fields and second phase 8 more fields. We also have the Northeast Regional Park coming on soon. An additional five fields added to the three already there. We'll have some scattered flat fields and some lighting going up in other areas too so that will increase play a lot for the players in El Paso you'll see a big change in the next year," said Powell.

More parks and sports complexes are exciting, but parents we talked to said while the department is working on maintaining fields and playing catch up they're worried about ongoing issues off the field that they feel have been overlooked.

"A lot of parents complain about shade because if you look at the bleachers they're just out in the sun and of course with the El Paso sun it can get pretty brutal. Also some of the bathroom facilities could be upgraded or better and you hear about parking. The parking situations can get a little tough out here sometimes," said Bueno.

Right now, the cost for repairs to address issues like this is bulked into the maintenance budget making it difficult to fix due to the cost and maintenance crew Parks and Rec have now.

Powell said she these are issues they are aware of and actively trying to fix as best as possible, but can fully be addressed with an increased budget and more staff which she hopes will happen next fiscal year.

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