Costa Mesa earmarks $2 million for playground upgrades at Lions Park

Renovations are on the way for the playground at Costa Mesa’s Lions Park after City Council members voted Tuesday night to repurpose funding that is no longer needed for other projects.

The council’s 4-0 vote devotes to the playground about $2.05 million previously set aside for a football field and stadium bleachers at Costa Mesa High School and renovations at the Jack R. Hammett Sports Complex, including converting two fields to artificial turf.

Councilwoman Katrina Foley recused herself on the issue because she lives near the sports complex.

Tuesday’s move represents the city’s latest investment in Lions Park, which is undergoing an overall $36.5-million renovation that includes building a two-story, 23,355-square-foot library and converting the existing 8,740-square-foot Donald Dungan Library into a community center.

Local residents “deserve to have a proper park” that is “finished professionally,” Councilman Jim Righeimer said.

Money has a way of disappearing “if you don’t tag it to something,” he added.

The park currently has a playground structure that was installed in 1995, sand and rubberized surfaces and a Korean War-era Grumman F9F Panther jet installed in 1960. The jet gives Lions Park its unofficial moniker, “Airplane Park.”

“If there’s one thing the Westside needs, it’s more quality parks and open space and, for that reason, I’m all in,” said Mayor Pro Tem Allan Mansoor. He added that a renovated playground will be a “beautiful addition to the Westside and it’s going to be fully utilized by so many people.”

City staff said the funding now earmarked for the playground is no longer needed for its originally intended purposes because the Newport-Mesa Unified School District has already finished work on the stadium and is not interested in moving ahead with the bleachers project, and planned work at Jack Hammett has changed to eliminate the installation of artificial turf.

The city now plans to give residents a chance to weigh in on what should be done at the playground. Options could range from small-scale renovations of the play equipment and landscaping to a more comprehensive overhaul of the area and its fixtures and equipment.

Depending on its final design and scope, the project’s cost could be $500,000 to $2.5 million, according to city staff. Whatever happens, city officials have emphasized the plane will remain.

Mayor Sandy Genis said it’s vital that the public’s perspectives be considered when shaping the project.

“Let’s make sure the residents are the first out of the box on what they want for this area ... how this will meet the needs of their kids and their families,” she said.

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