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City to craft a bond plan drawing on E205 success

Eighteen months ago, the parks in East Portland were as bare as they get. Barren fields, hardly a water fountain or park bench to speak of. Play structures and picnic tables were unheard of. And trails? Not so much.

Enter the city’s E205 initiative, an ambitious effort by Portland Parks & Recreation to improve 12 of those existing park spaces on a small budget, relatively speaking.

With Commissioner Nick Fish at the helm, the City Council invested $500,000 to the effort, which they leveraged with $300,000 in private funds raised by the Portland Parks Foundation.

Last week, the council celebrated the completion of the project, under budget and on time. Less than $250,000 was spent at each of the sites.

“If this news were a Hollywood movie, it would be the feel-good story of the year,” Commissioner Steve Novick said at the Jan. 30 council meeting.

Fish says he’s proud of his parks employees, who took on the initiative on top of their existing projects, since most of the work was done in-house to cut costs.

He’s grateful for the partners who supported the project, and glad for the park users who now get to enjoy the beautified spaces, since 40 percent of families in the city live in East Portland, he says.

“Our big challenge is bringing justice to East Portland,” Fish says. “It’s not going to be an easy lift. ... For 160 years we’ve invested in our system, but our unfinished work is providing equity in East Portland.”

Fish will also use the success to boost public support for a new parks bond measure. “We have the mayor’s full support,” Fish says. “We are preparing for a November ballot.”

The preparation includes conducting private polling to gauge public support for a parks bond, and how large the ask might be. “Dollars are very scarce these days,” he says.

They’ll also reach out to private donations and stakeholders.

If they get a green light, Fish and his staff will assemble a package of potential capital projects to include in the bond, taking into consideration a balance between regionality, the size of projects, and a balance between types of facilities — nature, recreational and more traditional types of parks.

At the same time, the parks budget will be under scrutiny, along with every other bureau in the city’s budgeting process. Mayor Charlie Hales has asked each bureau director to identify 10 percent of their programs that could be cut, which Fish is preparing.

“After many years of cuts, we don’t have any fat left,” he says. “I’ll be making the argument that we should work with the county and others to bridge investments, gain as much support as we can get for our parks. But we’re prepared to take our share of cuts.”

Jim Blackwood, Fish’s policy director on parks, says the list of capital project needs is around $700 million. “We know where there are serious shortfalls in the system,” he says.

Once parks staff get feedback and council approval on a package, a campaign would begin in the summer.

Here’s a list of the completed E205 initiatives:

Argay Park, Northeast 141st Avenue and Failing Street, has a new drinking fountain near the dog off-leash area, as well as three new park benches for two-legged visitors.

Cherry Park, Southeast 110th Avenue and Stephens Street, has a new soft-surface path and two new park benches.

East Portland Community Center and Pool, 740 S.E. 106th Ave., attracts the most visitors of any community center city-wide. There’s now a new playground on site, with features including a six-seat swing, synchro-spinners, a climbing wall and spring toys which are fully fenced in for safety. Many parts were built with recycled materials such as milk jugs and scrap steel.

East Holladay Park, 12999 N.E. Holladay St., has a new, soft-surface playground at the neighborhood park, including a giant ladybug climbing shell, a slide, a six-seat swing, infant swings, climbing structures and a jungle gym.

Ed Benedict Park, at Southeast 100th Avenue and Powell Boulevard, has a new 40-plot community garden (at Southeast 104th Avenue and Bush Street), plus a new drinking fountain near the skate park plaza. The Ed Benedict Community Garden the parks bureau reach its goal of 1,000 garden plots by 2012.

Glenfair Park, at Northeast 154th Avenue and Davis Street, has a new soft surface trail and two new park benches as well as picnic tables with concrete pads.

Gilbert Primary Park, Southeast 134th Avenue and Foster Road, has new trail distance markers on a new half-mile soft surface trail. There are also new park signs, benches, reconstructed fences and a resurfaced playground.

Lynchwood Park, Southeast 170th Avenue and Haig Street, has soft surface walking and jogging paths to help provide access and visibility into the park (addressing some neighborhood-identified concerns). A fenced dog off-leash area, bright new signage, new park benches and a drinking fountain are also in place.

Midland Park, Southeast 122nd Avenue and Morrison Street, is the only project still under way, set for completion in the spring. It will have additional lighting and improved lighting on its west side, replaced park benches installed closer to brightly lit areas, and new plants known to attract birds and butterflies. The fencing will be cleaned and shored up and a new gate installed that can be secured by volunteers only when the park is closed.

Parklane Park, Southeast 155th Avenue and Main Street, boasts new and refurbished picnic tables and benches, two new drinking fountains, a new playground, concrete pathway, and refurbished playground equipment in response to community and neighborhood input.

Ventura Park, Southeast 115th Avenue and Stark Street, benefited from a partnership with Northwest Trail Alliance, with a newly installed pair of circular off-road bicycle tracks known as pump tracks. Gravel pathways, kiosk signage and additional plantings and landscaping are also in place.

West Powellhurst Park, Southeast 115th Avenue and Division Street, has four new park benches and an improved surface to the all-season, handicap-accessible walking/jogging path.

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