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Saturday 19 October 2019
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Skinner Park upgrade revealed

Two cyclists ride along the Skinner Park track. PHOTO BY ANSEL JEBODH
Two cyclists ride along the Skinner Park track. PHOTO BY ANSEL JEBODH

THE long-awaited upgrade of Skinner Park was unveiled on Monday night at the San Fernando Community Centre.

With it came a suggestion from football coach Stephen Connell to honour one of the football heroes Jan Steadman, by naming the pavilion on the second-class grounds in his honour, while Steadman is still alive.

San Fernando mayor Junia Regrello said the development would bring employment.

Udecott senior project manager Terrence Beepath said the corporation had asked the contractor to hire at least 40 per cent of the unskilled labour force from San Fernando. People interested in these jobs can register at the offices of the MPs for San Fernando East and West and at the mayor’s office.

While the initiative was applauded, phases one and two, unveiled by Johann Lambkin of York Structures and Ravi Ramkhelawan of NLBA Architects, did not find favour with stakeholders, and the planners may have to go back to the drawing board.

The commercialisation of the park, which has been a breeding ground for sportsmen and women, including Olympic gold medallist Hasely Crawford, was a sore point among the majority of contributors.

Lambkin said the proposed design, as mandated by Udecott and the ministries of Sports and Culture, is to provide a facility San Fernandians can be proud of, which meets international standards, and is self-sustainable, taking into account maintenance and serviceability to avoid spending vast amounts on maintenance.

The first phase, catering for the physically challenged, will oversee the upgrade the cycling track, a pavilion with 6,000 seats, enhanced mayor’s box, corporate boxes, concessionaires, indoor multi-purpose courts, changing rooms for players and officials, and an outdoor basketball court with its own bleachers.

The start date is expected to be sometime in July and the price tag is $126 million, Beepath said.

Lambkin said, “For too long these facilities have been a drain on our economy and at last count, in discussion with the Ministry of Sports, I was told the annual maintenance budget is approximately $10 million for all sporting facilities. We had to find a way to reduce that.”

Former national netballer Cherry-Ann Blackburn, who coaches young boys and girls, expressed concern about the commercialisation of the park and the potential exclusion of young, talented lower-income people.

“We need training grounds that are accessible to everybody. I am in support of redevelopment, but there is a challenge when we add a figure to that and fail to consider persons who cannot afford that figure,” Blackburn said.

Alim Ali, principal of ASJA Boys College, said the main advantage for users of the park has been the unfettered access. He said there is a historic, emotional and spiritual connection between Skinner Park and its users, and asked for consideration to be given to continued easy access. Ali said the lack of development over the years has been commensurate with the loss of a whole generation of sportsmen, the loss of the nets and cricket grounds and hoped this upgrade would not further ostracise park users.

He said he was impressed with the design, which also includes, in phase two, an underground carpark and the relocation of food vendors from Cross Crossing, but had concerns about the design taking away the green space.

Football enthusiast Wayne Cadiz agreed with Ali about the environmental impact the design could have on the area.

“The park is basically the lungs of San Fernando, and we need to preserve it,” Cadiz said.

An elderly gentleman in the audience passionately rejected the commercialisation, saying that would destroy San Fernando.

“To bring vendors from the other side may bring in some money, but not everything is about money. Think about the health benefit of the people who play football on the ground, who use the tracks to walk, run, jog.”

Beepath assured him the track would not be interrupted and the relocation of the food vendors will be reviewed, but sooner or later the vendors will have to be removed, as they create a traffic nightmare and affect other businesses at Cross Crossing.

A netballer slammed the absence of any representatives from the Ministry of Sports and chastised Udecott for not taking their views into consideration and factoring them into the upgrade. She questioned how the plan for the development could have been taken to the Cabinet for approval and users' views sought after the fact.

Beepath conceded the planners might have put the cart before the horse because they wanted Cabinet approval and “we had to produce something.” But he said the plan is not carved in stone and “we could change as we go along.”

Regrello appealed with the stakeholders to put their heads together to make the project work.

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