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A Park Above plans close to finish, construction nears

This rendering shows early plans for A Park Above, including future phases. The parking lot runs along the west side, a grassy area is planned for the north end with an amphitheater just south of it, and play, picnic and seating areas continue south from there. The design is still undergoing changes. (Courtesy of Consensus Planning )
This rendering shows early plans for A Park Above, including future phases. The parking lot runs along the west side, a grassy area is planned for the north end with an amphitheater just south of it, and play, picnic and seating areas continue south from there. The design is still undergoing changes. (Courtesy of Consensus Planning )
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With plans for Rio Rancho’s all-inclusive park 60-70 percent finished, organizers are planning a groundbreaking in October.

Parks, Recreation and Community Services Director Jay Hart presented current plans for A Park Above at City Hall on Monday night.

The park, which would be off Westside Court near the Cabezon development, aims to let people of all ages with and without disabilities play together.

“We do know, and we’ve known all along, this project is going to have to be phased in,” Hart said.

He plans to build as money becomes available.

Hart said city staff members have talked with professionals, as well as children with disabilities and their parents, and have worked with landscape architect Chris Green of Consensus Planning.

The money

The city has about $1.5 million in hand for the project and another $500,000 coming from the last legislative session.

To stretch money as far as possible, Hart expects to contract out some tasks in park construction and have city staff handle others.

On the level

“There’s a lot of work that’s going to be done on the site itself,” Hart said.

The park needs to be more level than most parks.

That means importing about 5,000 cubic yards of dirt, Hart said, but staff members have a source of free dirt and in-kind help.

Practical features

Dyane Sonier of the parks and recreation department said the park would have almost 90 parking spaces, many of them handicap-designated.

The parking lot also includes a bus area.

Collector sidewalks along the exterior fence allow access without going all the way across the parking lot.

The perimeter will be fully fenced, with access through about half a dozen self-closing gates.

The fence would keep children with a tendency to run away safely inside the park.

The park will also have more shade than normal. Hart said he’s seen children playing under slides to get out of the heat, and shade is especially important to children who may have heat sensitivity or take certain medications.

Unlike most city parks, Hart said, A Park Above will have bathroom facilities. They’ll have extra space and adult changing tables.

Now, only Rio Rancho parks with community centers have bathrooms.

“So this is a little bit unique,” Hart said. “We’re thinking of this park as an outdoor community center.”

In that vein, he expects to hold various programs at the park, and Rio Rancho Public Schools has expressed interest in using it.

In the name of fun

The design includes sponsor walls, a large group picnic area with multi-level tables, an interactive sun dial and a water feature.

Water feature

In the water feature, Hart said, jets would shoot from a surface and there might be a mister.

After the water goes through the feature, it will go to the nearby wastewater treatment plant for cleaning and then come back to the park for landscaping.

“So the water is not wasted,” Hart said. “It’s repurposed.”

He expects the water feature to run on the same schedule as outdoor pools. Users will have to trigger it to make the water flow.

“So if nobody’s there, it won’t be running,” he said.

The feature will use 24 gallons a minute, much less than the 50-100 gallons a minute for some other systems.

In another water-saving measure, the park will have only about 0.3 acres of grass.

Swings

The design also includes a variety of swings.

“Swings tend to be really strong social areas within playgrounds,” Hart said.

Swings of various sizes will accommodate children and small adults, while one swing will fit wheelchairs.

Regular swings and a swaying feature where senior citizens can sit with relatives are also planned.

Play and therapy

Play areas will have a soft, wheelchair accessible surface. Hart said staff members are still looking for the material that will do the job for the lowest cost and maintenance.

Sonier said sensory stimulation is a key feature of A Park Above. So, plans include colorful, eye-catching objects, a music area and features that children can touch and operate.

She said some equipment would help develop balance and could be used in therapy sessions.

“There are a lot of areas that have been identified not just for play but for therapy as well,” she said.

Hart said most equipment would be at ground level, but there would be a mound that allowed children to get up higher and use features to get down, maybe a slide.

In the design, the south end of the park features a game area. Boards for games such as checkers, tic-tac-toe and four square will be embedded in or painted on the surface, and there will be basketball goals of varying heights, Hart said.

In the long run

“We have thought about security at this park,” Hart said. “We are working on a security plan to discourage people from doing things they shouldn’t be doing.”

The Rio Grande Gracious Retirement Living facility next door has supported the project, and Hart said residents there would keep an eye on the park and help with maintenance.

He expects to create a volunteer docent program to help keep the site up, and he’d like to employ people with disabilities there.

In future phases, plans involve a small amphitheater, outdoor fitness equipment, interactive mazes and a wheelchair-accessible dog park.

The park has created controversy, with some people saying people with disabilities need it and others saying the city can’t afford it.

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