Park, library upgrades the focus of $277 million in bond propositions


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Parks, libraries and cultural centers would see renovations and upgrades if voters approve two bond propositions, worth a total of $277 million, this November.

Propositions B and C would address maintenance concerns at facilities around the city, as well as set aside money for a new park in southwest Austin and a new pool in the far east part of the city.

Focused on libraries, museums and cultural centers, Prop B’s $128 million price tag might be a tough pill to swallow for some voters just a year after the completion of the new Central Library that cost the city $125 million. But John Gillum, facilities process manager for the Austin Public Library system, said the money in this new proposal addresses needs brought to the city’s attention by people who use the facilities.

“I think this will bring our existing buildings pretty much up to grade,” Gillum said.

A top priority for the department, he said, is the Old Quarry Branch in north Austin, which opened in 1976. After more than four decades of use, it’s showing its age. “As we like to put it,” Gillum said, “it’s been loved to death.”

Elaine Robicheaux still loves it, and she has since she first moved to Austin in 1985 and started raising her kids in Old Quarry. 

“I don’t have grandchildren yet,” she said, “but if I did, I would bring them to all the little kiddie things that happen here.”

Robicheaux still uses the library frequently, browsing for new reads and taking advantage of a book reservation system that gives her access to titles all over the city’s system. “It’s more than just being here in this little library. It represents connection to the whole town.”

The renovations at Old Quarry would likely include new carpets, lighting, shelving, paint, and windows. “When we get through, it will be like a brand new library, like 1976,” Gillum said.

Prop B also includes money for renovations at 14 other branches. The library system contains 20 branches total. More than $56 million of the bond’s total would go to improvements to the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, Asian-American Resource Center, George
Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center and the Mexic-Arte Museum.

Prop C, which totals $149 million, would renovate the city’s aging pools and improve parks citywide, Parks and Recreation Department division manager Terry Jungman said. But it, too, is a big ask, much higher than the 2006 and 2012 bonds.

“What we’re talking about now is essentially almost double what those previous bond programs were,” Jungman said.

The money is necessary, he said, to get existing facilities up to par and to help close gaps in access to parks and pools around the city. 

The proposal would set aside $25 million for “parkland improvements,” likely to include Walter E. Long Metro Park, Givens District Park and Brush Square, where the parks department is developing master plans.

At John Treviño Jr. Metro Park, another likely candidate, improvements would include bathrooms, parking areas, picnic pavilions and a walking trail. 

The city’s pools would see $40 million in funding under the proposition, including $6 million for “major renovations” at Givens Pool and $21 million for work at other pools citywide. 

“They were all built more or less in the same time period and now they’re all kind of reaching that point of needing renovation, replacement, repair work, kind of at the same time,” Jungman said.

A new pool in Colony Park in far east Austin adds another $13 million to the total the department wants to spend on aquatics. Jungman said that plan addresses an area where residents don’t have adequate access to city pools.

That’s the same reasoning the department uses in its plans to develop a new “destination park” in the Oak Hill area at a cost of $10 million. The city can’t say where the park would be since it needs funding in hand before it can buy property. 

If all seven bond propositions pass on Nov. 6, for a grand total of $925 million, the city says it will raise the property tax rate by 2 cents for every $100 of value. That means for a home valued at $300,000, homeowners would pay about $5 more per month.

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