Mayor will try again on Parks and Rec renovations


Mayor Debe Hollingsworth hasn’t given up hope of obtaining City Council approval for renovations at Pine Bluff’s Townsend Park and Merrill Community Center, she told the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission on Tuesday.

In a special meeting of the Pine Bluff City Council on Friday, aldermen rejected Hollingsworth’s request to appropriate $650,000 to fund the renovations, which the mayor says are required under the terms of a sales-tax increase approved by voters in 2011.

Hollingsworth told parks commissioners Tuesday that she will try to provide the aldermen with more specific information about details of the proposed renovations.

“Rather than a lump sum, we’ll divide out the projects so that the aldermen will have a clearer scope,” she said.

Hollingsworth said Pine Bluff architect Fred Reed will be conducting an architectural assessment of the Merrill Center and that information will be distributed to aldermen as well.

“Hopefully, they’ll have some more clarity to it,” she said.

At Friday’s meeting, the city council voted 5-2 to reject Hollingsworth’s funding request. A key point of contention was what impact the appropriation might have on a multipurpose center that was approved as one of the projects to be funded by the sales-tax increase.

Hollingsworth said Tuesday that there is no possibility that the multipurpose center will be scrapped.

“The multipurpose center will be built, period,” she said. “We have to do that. There’s been some talk that it will not happen. It will happen.”

Parks Commissioner Abel White questioned the wisdom of spending more money on the Merrill Center.

“The Merrill Center has always been a problem, because we keep patching the repairs,” White said. “I think we’re wasting good money after bad money. … It ought to be trashed, just wrecked down and start over.”

Hollingsworth replied that a study has revealed the Merrill Center to be structurally sound.

“That’s one of the things we talked about,” she said. “Is the structure sound enough to do these repairs? Yes, it is.”

Hollingsworth also said that the work she envisions for the center will not be “patching.” She pointed to three recently renovated fire stations as examples.

“Being good stewards of this money, we are going to do it right,” she said.

“When you start fixing on something that’s been fixed before, that’s a patch,” White said.

Parks and Recreation Department Director Angela Parker told the commission that the Merrill Center had sustained some damage from high winds over the weekend.

In other business, the commission discussed developing a list of policies and procedures for procuring bids, as well as the policy for paying department employees to clean up after rentals of parks facilities.

Parker told the commission that she would like to consider hiring professional help to ensure that the cleanup is done properly.

The commission also discussed possible changes to the standard rental contract for the city’s softball fields, but took no action.