302015Jun

Merced McNamara Park open after yearlong wait

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Soccer pitches not used for more than a year while crews upgraded park

City officials say fields will be used mostly by soccer clubs

Hours for splash pad, which uses water, still need to be worked out

Children run through the new Splash Pad following a dedication ceremony for the new artificial turf soccer pitches at McNamara Park in Merced on Tuesday. Parks and Recreation Department staff will develop a plan for the splash pad to keep from wasting water. Photo by Andrew Kuhn akuhn@mercedsunstar.com
After more than a year behind locked gates, McNamara Park’s soccer pitches were opened to the public by Merced city officials Tuesday.
The city dedicated the artificial turf fields during a ceremony that brought out dozens of children clad in soccer gear, and many others who ran through the new splash pad, a fountain in which they could play.
The park was slated for a $2.6 million upgrade that was due to be complete in April 2014. But the pitches have been closed off for more than a year because the city and the project’s contractors disagreed on problems with the fields after installation.
The artificial field developed depressions on the playing surface, eventually causing city officials in February to pay to fix the issues on their own.
The 1040 Canal St. park now has two artificial turf fields, as well as one made of natural grass. Crews replaced the softball and baseball diamonds that city officials have said fell out of use.
Sonya Severo, director of coaching for Merced Youth Soccer, said the artificial fields are an important tool for area children. The drought has forced the city to pull back on watering soccer pitches at all of its parks, leaving the grass dry and dying.
“Our soccer fields are dwindling and they’re playing on dirt,” she said. “Kids are going home with bruises and scrapes on their knees.”
More than 1,200 youngsters from Merced Youth Soccer can be found playing in parks all over Merced on any Saturday, according to league officials.
The park also has an upgraded bathroom, which was painted this month by volunteers. The project added security cameras to the park, which some residents think has a bad reputation.
McNamara Park has long been a popular gathering place in south Merced, according to people who live nearby. Merced police Capt. Tom Trindad said he believes the park’s reputation is unwarranted, because every park has its own occasional problems.
He went on to say that any beautification the city can do to the park can help to keep it a safe place. “(Beautification) shows people that would want to engage in criminal activity that this is a place where people care,” he said.
When the park looks good, he said, people want to take ownership of it and protect it.
Playground equipment and walkways have also been improved as part of the park upgrades. Other additions include Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps and security lighting.
Crews also installed ornamental metal fencing designed by students from Merced and Golden Valley high schools.
Mike Conway, who oversees the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said his staff will develop a plan for the splash pad to keep from wasting water. He said his staff has not drawn up a schedule but said the splash pad will likely be turned off when the park’s pool is open to visitors.
Rachelle Abril, an organizer who helps run McNamara Park Youth Center, said she has fond memories of playing softball in the park. She said it’s fitting that the park has seen upgrades that could make it a popular place for young people again. “It means a lot to us,” she said.
As an homage to the park’s softball past, the city installed a plaque near what used to be home plate in honor of the Merced Sweethearts, a women’s fast-pitch softball team that existed for 50 years.
BY THADDEUS MILLER | @THADDEUSMILLER
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