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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Playgrounds, bathrooms top funding priority list for Spokane Parks

As temperatures climbed into the 90s, people and pets find a shady spot to beat the heat during a visit to Corbin Park in Spokane last summer. Parks officials are now looking at how to spend their allotment of COVID-19 relief money from the city, guided by the results of a user survey last year.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Spokane Parks and Recreation wants to be there when nature calls.

As it decides how to spend $1.1 million in American Rescue Plan funds, Spokane Parks and Recreation will focus on improving playground equipment and other amenities – including restrooms – in city parks, particularly those in low-income areas.

Parks officials have looked to the in-progress Spokane Parks and Natural Lands Master Plan for direction and hope to finalize a list of proposals to bring to the City Council next month.

During development of its master plan – a draft version of which is set for release this year – Spokane Parks conducted a survey of more than 5,000 people in 2021. That feedback, in addition to the outreach conducted by the city specifically related to American Rescue Plan funding, is being used to guide parks officials to help shape priorities.

“In some cases we maybe just have a restroom closed because the sewer collapsed and needs to be replaced,” said Spokane Parks and Recreation Director Garrett Jones. “It has a huge impact to the community because we’re able to get a restroom back online, but it doesn’t have a lot of cash involved.”

The Spokane City Council allocated parks $1.1 million of the $13.7 million it set aside from the American Rescue Plan earlier this month. Parks and Recreation was among those chosen for funding due to the financial hit it took when COVID-19 forced the cancellation of programming, which is a major source of revenue.

The action by the City Council was the first major assignment of money from the city’s $81 million pool of American Rescue Plan funds it was awarded last year.

Although Parks has been allocated the money, specific projects will still require a sign-off from two boards. Jones said Parks and Recreation will create a “diverse array” of options and aim to have projects approved by the Park Board and City Council.

From there, Parks and Recreation would move forward with the design and implementation of the improvements.

The survey conducted by parks last year has driven the decision-making process for park officials.

Playgrounds scored near the top of the list when survey-takers were asked what aspects of parks most need improvement.

About 70% of respondents cited a lack of amenities including bathrooms, adequate lighting or signage as an issue. And 94% of respondents said they somewhat prefer or strongly prefer that bathrooms be a focus for park improvements – more than any other suggested improvement.

Bathrooms are a particular challenge for Spokane Parks. Several older bathrooms have to be shut down during the winter to prevent freezing pipes.

In some cases, aging sewer lines have broken down and forced bathroom closures.

Some playgrounds still use equipment that dates back to the 1970s, according to Jones.

New playgrounds cost $50,000 or more to build, according to Jones, but not every project undertaken has to be a full redesign. Those that are redesigned will include input from the community.

“We want the playground to be shaped by the users,” Jones said.

There’s still time for the public to weigh in on the parks master plan, which will set the course for park investments for the next 10 years.

Following the release of the draft version, parks officials will solicit feedback before the master plan is finalized.