Supporters of Farmington all-abilities park seek financial help from County Commission

Foundation official points to number of county residents who would benefit from project

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The Tibbetts All Abilities Park Foundation is hoping to raise $5 million toward the park’s $13 million price tag.
  • The park is being planned for an 8-acre site at the location of the former Tibbetts Middle School in Farmington.
  • An international grand-funding foundation recently reached out to TAAP to pledge $500,000 for the park in January.

FARMINGTON — One of the leaders of the organization raising money for an all-abilities park in Farmington issued a plea for support from the San Juan County Commission during its Dec. 20 meeting, citing figures that show that nearly one-fifth of county residents have a disability and thousands of county schoolchildren are identified as special needs students.

Marilyn Montoya of the Tibbetts All Abilities Park (TAAP) Foundation, the nonprofit group that is hoping to raise $5 million toward the park’s $13 million price tag, told commissioners that while the park is intended to serve as a gathering spot for everyone, there is a strong need for such a space in San Juan County, given the aforementioned statistics.

Montoya said a 2017 survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that 18% of adults in San Juan County had a registered disability — substantially more than the figure of 13% for New Mexico as a whole — in making her case for support of the park by commissioners.

“This totals approximately 7,925 community members and homes that cannot fully access their environment or participate in quality-of-life activity such as going to a park,” she said.

She also pointed to figures that show that nearly 4,000 children enrolled in school districts across San Juan County are identified as special needs students, a figure that does not include those who are home schooled or medically fragile.

San Juan County Commissioners were asked to provide financial support for Farmington's planned all-abilities park during their Dec. 20 meeting.

“Today, we are asking for your help,” Montoya told the commissioners. “Yes, we are asking for your help, but more than that, we are asking for your help by joining the supporters of this dream. As you go into the new year, please look for ways that you can support the park financially.”

The park is being planned for an 8-acre site at the location of the former Tibbetts Middle School at 317 E. Apache St. northwest of downtown Farmington. It has been designed with features that are accessible by people of all abilities, and include innovative play structures, nature-based attractions, sensory features and community gathering spots.

Shana Reeves, director of parks, recreation and cultural affairs for the City of Farmington, said the Farmington City Council has allocated funding for the creation of construction documents for the first two phases of the three-phase project. The first phase has been estimated to cost $3.8 million, while the second phase carries a price tag of $4.2 million. The third and final phase is estimated at $3 million, while the renovation of the old Tibbetts Middle School library — the only structure left standing on the property — would cost an additional $2 million.

After a series of public meetings, surveys and other data-gathering efforts, officials from MRWM Landscape Architects in Albuquerque produced a master plan for the park this fall. What they came up with is unique, Montoya said, even compared to all-abilities parks that were built just a few years ago in other locations around the country.

She recalled a recent conversation she had with an official of the one of the firms the city has contracted with on the project.

An all-abilities park planned for the site of the former Tibbetts Middle School in Farmington carries a $13 million price tag.

“‘You all are setting the bar extremely high,’” Montoya said the contractor told her. “‘There are no other parks like this. Other people are going to be coming to you to see what you have done.’ And we take that as a real compliment.”

Montoya said the foundation and the City of Farmington have applied for numerous grants to help complete the project, as well as funding from the New Mexico Legislature and Congress. But she said her foundation faces an uphill battle in securing grants from some organizations because it has little to no history, given the short time TAAP has been around.

“Most grants of substance want three years of financial history to show,” she said. “Well, we don’t have that. So our process is slow, but we are having a considerable output from the community members towards reaching our part of the goal.”

She said an international grand-funding foundation recently reached out to TAAP to pledge $500,000 for the park in January. The organization has asked to remain anonymous, she said.

Montoya listed dozens of local nonprofit organizations that have contributed to the project already. But she said the cost of the materials and equipment needed to build such a park is considerable.

As an example, she cited the example of material used to cover a standard playground in a park. The brown bark mulch typically used for such a site would cost $9,000, she said, explaining that that material is considered compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, although it is not considered wheelchair accessible.

The cost of covering the same area with a wheelchair-accessible covering is $155,000, she said.

“Yes, I’ll let that sink in,” she said.

The cost of the equipment envisioned for the park also is likely to be more expensive than regular playground equipment, she said, explaining that MRMW officials are working with manufacturers to design equipment to fit specifically in the space that has been designed.

Nevertheless, the city is following a financially prudent path in choosing this approach to creating such a park, she said.

“We found it’s much cheaper to build a new park than it is to actually go in and retrofit an existing park,” she said.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 ormeasterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.