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Get the Point: Benton needs aquatic center, but on the terms of the people

August 28, 2013

By David Hughes

Today, I would like to put aside my memory books and dust off a piece of furniture I seldom use any more. When I was younger and full of myself, it received a lot of use and many times got me into trouble (grin).
(Dusting off the “Fred E. Ashcraft Memorial Bully Pulpit…”) …. This will only mean something to old codgers …. Also, what follows is my opinion – not necessarily that of the newspaper’s staff, management, paper carriers or readers ….
The most gratifying things to come from recent columns about how things were in Benton during what I so lovingly call the “good old days” of my child- and teen-hood are the number of comments and letters I receive online. Almost all of them say your memories and mine resurrect a happy time for the respondents and reliving them – even for a few moments – on the pages of the newspaper and Facebook have come to mean a lot to them.
Most of the comments evolved around memories of the Tyndall Park pool and the skating rink formerly located there. You could almost feel the smiles coming through the online posts as they remembered the pool, the juke box, the food, but most of all, the friendships made. Many expressed sorrow the pool had been summarily closed with little explanation to the public – other than “it had bad leaks.”
Almost in the same breath they were wishing out loud that the city still had a pool or would build a more modern version of the facility we loved in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Well …
Do you remember a VERY expensive Parks and Recreation and Open Space Master Plan done by the city back in 2000 by Carter-Burgess, Inc. It laid out a specific plan on how to expand and improve the parks and recreation system in the city, including hiking, biking and walking trails throughout the city.
It also included additional athletic practice fields … but the school’s taxpayers took care of that … in spades.
Also addressed was the need for additional softball fields for girls and adult leagues and … “a community recreation center to serve all Benton residents. (My emphasis) PROVIDE THIS FACILITY IN A SITE WITH HIGH VISIBILITY AND CURRENT PARK-RELATED ACTIVITES JUST A FEW BLOCKS FROM DOWNTOWN. This would become a major municipal complex in the “heart” of the city.’” (A nod to the city’s “heart” logo.)
There’s a lot more to it, but I wanted to spotlight that passage about the proposed facility being somewhat centrally located.
A little birdie has told me that a plan has been created that would be paid for by a proposed sales tax to address the “Quality of Life” in Benton. Plans have already been drawn up, etc. When I heard this, I was overjoyed because this is something my beloved city has needed for decades and would be a huge jewel in its crown to attract new business and residents.
I believe a caveat in important here. I do not presently live in Benton, but, Lord willing, I hope to before I die. However, I’m sure you know my heart still beats maroon and grey and I have many friends and relatives living there, including a daughter and her wonderful children.
I try to contribute to my graduating class activities or in any way that I can located a thousand miles away … but I know some will say I have no business “butting in” and perhaps you are correct. However, I have traveled across these United States, worked in large and small newspapers and have seen what worked and what did not. My thoughts on these pages and online are tempered through that filter.
Let’s get this out of the way … I encourage you to vote for whatever reasonable “Quality of Living” sales tax proposed because you need to think of your children and grandchildren — not yourself. Hopefully, the facilities created will benefit generations of young people and I think it behooves Benton to take a more active role in providing recreational opportunities such as swimming, etc.
Now for the Ashcraftisms … That same birdie told me the plan as now created calls for putting the pool, a new senior citizens center and boys and girls club on property located in the airport/Holland park area of the city.
Remember that emphasized portion of the master plan? It called for a CENTRAL location just a few blocks from downtown. Holland Park is located in an area of town very difficult to get in and out of.
Also, before going too far with plans and such, shouldn’t there be several public hearings to get voter input on what THEY would like to see in a new complex?
Locating the pool site so far away from the high school and middle school complexes means that if the school wanted to use the facilities for practice and meets, students would have to be bused back and forth.
Don’t even suggest letting them drive themselves over there … too many bad memories from years past.
Is there not enough room in Tyndall Park for the pool complex and the combined senior and boys and girls club facility? Maybe move some of the present ball fields to Holland/airport. That would make more sense and also be very handy for students to walk to the park. Include the cost of a pedestrian walkway bridge over Border Street, if necessary.
How about revamping a portion of Edison Avenue? It’s a lot closer to downtown and could be a perfect catalyst for renovating that whole area.
Once the mayor releases his plan, I think everything will be clearer. As I said, my information came from several birdies and we all know what can happen sometimes.
Again, I am PRO for building the pool and associated recreational facilities; just build it for the benefit of the most people and, in my opinion, Holland Park ain’t it.

David Hughes is a former resident of Saline County.

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