‘Open our park’

Residents frustrated as Ocean Air site remains closed

At the end of East Ocean Air Drive sits a beautiful park — green grass, a rec center, swings, ball fields and basketball courts beckon. But around that park is a sturdy fence, two fences deep in some portions, making neighbor John Shearson think of San Quentin Prison.

Last week on one of those fences hung a hand-drawn poster that in a child’s handwriting read “Open our park” with drawings of a soccer ball and slide.

From the mouths of babes to frustrated adults, “Open our park” has become a rallying cry as neighbors wonder how long this park will go unused.

The short answer is, there is no answer yet.

“There is no date,” said Clay Bingham, the city’s deputy director of community parks. Bingham said the delay is due to construction issues with the recreation center area and the city’s budget. He said the budget process is expected to be complete in mid-December and they are not opening community centers and parks during that period.

“We understand how people feel,” Bingham said. “We’re waiting just like everyone else.”

Shearson said the wait has grown frustrating for a park that was scheduled to be open in July.

“To keep a park closed is ridiculous,” said Shearson. “This is a $10 million park and nobody playing in it. We’ve heard a lot of excuses, but there are no excuses left why the park should not open.”

In August, the excuse was that the grass needed more time before people could be on it. Now, Shearson said he was told of issues with the rec center building’s roof that could take a year to fix.

Bingham said that they have not looked at whether the park can open without the rec center opening.

The Ocean Air Recreation Council is ready to open the center despite the facility’s apparent issues, said Shearson who is a council member.

Funds have been earmarked for a center director and for employees. The rec council has also been working for months to approve programs to run in the 16,000-square-foot recreation center.

“The amount of time wasted on this is phenomenal,” Shearson said.

Shearson said he feels most sorry for the children, especially those at Ocean Air School. The park’s fields are joint use with the school and since the school opened, 700 students have had nothing but a crowded blacktop to play on.

“Kids here have been waiting for over three years,” Principal Gary Wilson said. “It’s very unfortunate that the city has elected not to open the park. We’re hoping to get it open as soon as possible.”