Chapel Hill Town Council members discussed whether funding for new or existing infrastructure should be prioritized at their work session on Monday.
After a presentation of the Chapel Hill Parks & Recreation Splash Pad and Inclusive Playground Progress Report, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said the majority of the Town Council wants more than one medium-sized splash pad for the community.
She said Hargraves Community Park and Homestead Park would be appropriate sites for the splash pad because they would serve a lot of people within walking distance.
Hemminger said the Council wants both a large accessible playground but also wants to add to existing parks so they can be brought up to speed regarding inclusivity.
“I’m embarrassed that all of our playgrounds aren’t as accessible for handicapped and disabled people, and we need to start making those changes,” Hemminger said.
Council member Adam Searing said he has spent a lot of time with parents of kids with complex medical needs, and knows that those parents will drive a long way to get to a playground where their kids can play.
He said that while he is in support of more accessible equipment across playgrounds, the community still needs a central accessible playground for those parents.
Searing added that the creation of splash pads has been a topic of discussion in Chapel Hill for about a decade.
“When I look at our plans here, I think how far behind we are behind every other community around here,” he said. “I mean Fayetteville has 12 of these splash pads.”
Council member Camille Berry said the Town has imminent infrastructure and facility needs, citing the condition of fire and police stations in the community.
“I am very concerned about us meeting those needs,” she said. “If we are willing to add tax, which I think we should be, I want to make sure that we invest in the services that we have promised this community before we add on the flash.”
She also said that one of the infrastructure issues that has presented itself in the community is a lack of public restrooms in downtown Chapel Hill.
“There are people who are impatient with those that don’t have housing, they feel for them but they don’t understand why they relieve themselves in public,” Berry said. “Because they sleep in public, because they eat in public, because they exist in public. They do not have privacy.”
She said that the council owes it to those individuals to provide them with a place where they can use the restroom in private to respect their basic human dignity.
Council member Paris Miller-Foushee said that, although she is in support of a splash pad, the money to pay for it should not come from American Rescue Plan Act funding.
“I think for me that ARPA funding going towards repairs and renovations of our existing is a priority for me,” Miller-Foushee said.
She said that the Corner Teen Center, which the Council used as an example of existing infrastructure needs, is more of an ecosystem that needs to be invested in rather than a place.
“When we invest in them, we invest in ourselves and our future as a town,” she said. “It sends a message that we want them to continue to be a part of this community as they grow and go off, and say, ‘Hey, I’m coming back home.’”
Council member Michael Parker added that investing in the current location of the Chapel Hill Teen Center, the basement of a 1936 post office, is not a good long-term investment.
He said the current location never was, and never will be, a satisfactory location for a teen center.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.