Sunday, May 19, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Graham council wants cost estimates for Sesquicentennial Park repairs, relocation


Graham’s city council continued its discussion this week on whether to repair or raze the Sesquicentennial Park on the northwest corner of Court Square.

The council ultimately decided, on a 4-1 vote, to seek separate cost estimates for repairs, as well as for relocating the park to one of the city’s other parks.

City manager Megan Garner and several city council members emphasized that even if the park were to be eliminated, the honorary and memorial  bricks – about 420 were purchased at $100 each in 1999 to help fund the park – would be preserved.

“We’re not going to chuck the bricks in the dumpster,” Garner said.

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About 420 engraved bricks, at $100 each, were sold to help pay for the Sesquicentennial Park.

Mayor Jennifer Talley made clear her position that the park should be razed: “I would like to see a building built there.”

Talley disavowed any personal interest in buying the property or constructing a building to replace the park. [See separate story in this week’s edition.]

Talley nevertheless gave as an example a “boutique hotel” as a suitable building on the site.  She said the hours when people would be checking in and out would not conflict with the on-street parking needed for downtown retail businesses.

She said the current park, which is owned by the city, doesn’t generate any sales tax, nor any property tax (for the city or the county), both of which the property would generate from a business-related building on the site.

Talley also continued to insist that the park had been a “beautification project,” which she interpreted as having meant that the park was intended to be temporary.

She invoked the name of the late Pat Bailey, the co-chairman of the county’s Sesquicentennial Committee, as supporting that concept.

But in an interview after the meeting, councilman Ricky Hall, who voted against seeking cost estimates, said, “Mrs. Bailey would be rolling over in her grave” to hear the discussion of tearing down the park. Hall said he had worked with Bailey during the sesquicentennial year.

Hall said he did not “mind getting cost estimates on repairs, but I do mind getting estimates on moving the park.” It was the inclusion of the latter dimension that caused him to vote against the motion by councilman Bobby Chin, which passed 4-1.

Chin had said earlier in the meeting that he felt the council should obtain options for rebuilding, disposing of the property, and relocating the park.

He said that the city’s current estimates of $50,000 to fix the parks is just “guesses.” Chin also noted near the end of Tuesday’s discussion that one person had suggested relocating the park to “what is now our free speech area in front of city hall.

“You basically make it a plaza using the bricks and things like that,” Chin said.  “But on the other hand, why not locate it at one of our city parks where it could be appreciated by all the folks who go to the park?”

Indeed, Talley suggested much higher figures of $200,000 or $300,000 as the more likely cost to repair the foundation for the park.

“I don’t see how in the world it could be done for $50,000.” Talley said.  Talley added, “I don’t think the citizens of Graham want to spend $300,000 plus to fix it.”

She argued that repairs to the park would be “so excessive, it doesn’t make taxpayer sense.”

City manager Megan Garner said at the outset of Tuesday’s discussion that the staff wanted to obtain guidance about how to proceed with the park as they begin to craft a city budget for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1.

“Honestly, mayor Talley, it’s difficult to get an estimate until we know what’s underneath, so the $50,000 is for the mason to go out and re-lay what’s there,” Garner told the council.

“Until everything from that lot has been removed and they’ve been able to dig down to see what’s there, it’s really hard to get a firm estimate to see what it’s actually going to cost,” the city manager explained.  “We just need direction on if city council would like to maintain that property, and if that’s the case, then we know we have to budget for something to happen there before it continues to sink and cause some sort of an issue – or dispose of the property from whatever method city council would desire.”

Talley said the park would need a “complete revamp,” and she repeated her contention that the park does not get much use.  In particular, she has been critical that there is no “roofing structure” over the gazebo that would allow it to be used in rainy weather. She termed the current structure “weather-contingent in the design.”

“If the existing building that was there could be rebuilt in the same structure and visually as it was, I think that would be something that would generate a lot of excitement and interest from the community,” Talley insisted. “I think people would really like that; that’s just my thought, and if all the bricks were located around the building, and there was something to name it, say the Sesquicentenial Building, or something to that extent, I think that would be a positive thing.”

For his part, Chin said, “That location is not sacred.  For a lot longer, there was a building there.”

Talley and Chin were joined by council members Bonnie Whitaker and Joey Parsons voted for Chin’s motion to get cost estimates; Hall voted against.

The discussion both this month and last suggested that there had been inadequate fill material packed into the space of a former basement of a three-story business building dating to the turn of the century had originally been.

“It was never properly backfilled to begin with,” Talley said Tuesday night.  “In regards to my comments about it saying that it was a beautification project, out of Pat Bailey’s own mouth, I was at that meeting, and that’s what she kept talking about was that, ‘look at what it looks like now; it’s just being used as a parking lot.  It’s just a gravel parking lot.’  Whenever they backfilled it, they did it very quickly and probably didn’t do it with the mindset that they were going to build on it anytime soon, or didn’t have the money to do that.”

Talley also insisted that the sinking floor makes it difficult to offer the park as an events venue.   “There’s a big brick column in the middle of it,” she said.  “It would be difficult to rent, as it is now, because there’s no roofing structure on the pergola, so it’s weather-contingent.  There’s just a lot of issues in the design…I just don’t think it was necessarily a structure that was going to be there for all time.  It was something to celebrate the sesquicentennial birthday.  If there’s something that’s going to have to be done – to completely dig up that basement and put it back to where it’s not going to cave in or continue to sink – as a taxpayer, I don’t want to spend two hundred and some thousand dollars to fix something.”

The council also heard from one of the city’s attorneys, Bryan Coleman, who said that his title search at the Register of Deeds found no encumbrances that would limit the city’s options for potentially selling the property.

For his part, in an interview later, Hall said there were possibilities to “keep and re-envision” the park, perhaps expanding it to include an adjacent alleyway.

Hall said the city hasn’t “really taken care of the park.”

He said it really shouldn’t be so much about the money (to repair the park), but about the pride in the county’s history.

As to how much the park is used, Hall’s view is that “it’s used quite a bit, but could be much, much better.” Hall said he has personally seen people getting married at the park.

Read the newspaper’s editorial page views on this week’s discussion:

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