Recreation bemoans unsafe condition at local parks while spending $2.9 million on gym expansion

With plans for a $2.9 million gym expansion at Lamar Dixon Expo Center 100% complete and “going out for bid” Ascension’s Council Recreation Committee bemoaned the “dangerous” condition at local parks posed by long-neglected lights.  Former Councilman Todd Lambert called it “a deal cut back in the day” last year.  He described a quid (the gym expansion) pro quo (soccer fields) when the former council approved funding for the gym expansion on March 21, 2019.

That funding comes in the form of a loan from the General Fund, repaid over the next decade without incurring interest.

Travis Turner/Todd Lambert feud over gym funding leads to accusation of council deal-cutting

With annual allocations between $2-3 million out of the fund, committing $300,000(+) to debt service is not insignificant.

“We don’t want anybody to die out there,” offered Council Aaron Lawler, known for hyperbole and a fondness for drivel that spills out of his own mouth, at the most recent Recreation meeting.  “It’s dangerous.  We had a pole fall down a couple of months ago; the lights are huge.  That’s just massive.”

Not huge or massive enough, apparently, to do anything about it though.  Recreation Director BJ Romano, calling the lighting problem his “No. 1 priority, would say:

“We can borrow the money from our own fund to get us started.  Our main populated parks, we really want to jump on them as soon as we can ‘cuz I do have lighting issues every day popping up.”

Translation?  Nothing is being done though Romano claimed his department is “currently working on a feasible plan to bring LED lighting to all of our parks.”  He did inform the committee that lighting improvements at Jackie Robinson Park in Geismar, in cooperation with the area lighting district, are underway.  What about all those other parks?

The problem is one of long standing.  If it all sounds familiar, consider what Lawler had to say in April 2019…

“As we’ve heard in recent weeks, we have a huge problem with lighting, especially at our baseball and softball fields.  It’s dangerous.  We, literally, have lights falling down, we have lights out…

If you’ve ever played baseball you know it’s hard to see a ball as it is, especially if you get older like me.  But even for a kid it’s very dangerous if you don’t have proper lighting out there.”

In 2019, as Lawler would note, a loan from Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources was being sought.  Without dedicated funding, Recreation relies on a portion of sales tax deposited into the General Fund, there is only so much that can be done.  And the deficiencies are many.

Newly rehired, Ricky Compton was invited to speak at Thursday’s committee meeting.  His job duties include oversight of parish recreation.  Having spent the last few years with BREC, Baton Rouge’s well-funded recreation program, the challenges are different in Ascension.

“We need to start talking about where we fall on a national standard.  Where are we deficient?  Is it acreage; is it the dollars we’re spending,” Compton asked rhetorically.

Ricky Compton

“I can tell you right now, it’s all of the above,” he conceded Ascension’s “bigger issues (sewer, drainage, roads, etc.)  Recreation is a quality of life issue and I think it’s important.”

Just how important remains to be seen.

Vowing never to “build another park that’s not 100% ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible,” Compton promised a “quote to get (existing parks) up to code.”

“All of our playgrounds are deficient,” he declared.

Where he’s going to find all money necessary to do so is a different question entirely.