Residents of One Woodbrook Place respectfully declined a proposal to build a $20 million public wellness and sports tourism hub at the Nelson Mandela Park, citing concerns over its construction.
However, they did call for several improvements and enhancements, including the installation and maintenance of toilet facilities and a smooth and well-lit running path around the park so that people could continue to make use of the park safely.
In a proposal forwarded to the residents in a consultation held virtually on Monday, the City of Port of Spain said there was an opportunity to convert the park, already used by hundreds of people on a nightly basis, into a state-of-the-art sporting facility to encourage sport tourism in the area, which could attract forex for airlines, hotels and Port of Spain businesses.
The proposal said there was a shortage of multi-sports fields, as those available do not meet the demand for multiple sports. It also said the rainy and dry seasons restrict the availability of grass fields in the rainy season, while the fields become unplayable in the dry season.
The city clalimed the park – with a 1.12 km walkway which people use for running, a basketball court, tennis courts, an exercise hub and playground – was underutilised, but more use was not possible because of challenges in maintaining the grass.
To solve these problems, the city proposed a three-field facility which would replace the natural grass with plastic turf and a calendar booking system, so it can schedule sports and other events, and create a safe space which would allow children to engage in a healthy lifestyle.
The construction, with a projected cost of $20 million would include additional netting and other equipment for sporting events as well as the purchase of maintenance equipment.
Representing residents of One Woodbrook Place, which overlooks the park, Imshah Mohammed said there were many concerns with the proposal. He said while many improvements were needed at the park, it would be better suited for a wellness area for public use, rather than a sporting facility. He added that it would be a step backward to tamper with one of the green spaces in the country, especially in this climate.
“We cannot support the corporation’s plan to remove most of the grass surfaces and replace it with plastic. With climate change and its attendant issues, the replacement of grass with plastic, especially over such a large area, is a retrograde step and will reduce the cooling effect the park brings to this area of Port of Spain,” Mohammed said.
He added that although the astroturf would require the removal of grass, things like crabgrass would still grow and would require insecticide, which could affect waterways in the area.
“Also artificial turf is often treated with biocides, as (it) has been associated with increased risk of infections from methicillin-resistant bacteria.”
He said infections from the bacteria in astroturf could lead to pneumonia, sepsis and other infections that can prove fatal.
Former mayor Louis Lee Sing said the park sits on top an aquifer which supplies the Woodbrook area with water.
“These chemicals can find its way into the aquifer,” Lee Sing said. “The chemicals have also been proven to cause bruises to be more septic.”
Lee Sing and residents also pointed outt there were several other sporting facilities in the area which could be used for sporting events, including the Queen’s Park Oval across the street, St Mary’s College Grounds, Queen’s Royal College grounds, the Woodbrook Youth Centre, Jean Pierre Complex, the Police Barracks and the Jean Pierre Stadium.
Sporting groups as well said the country should maintain its green spaces as best as possible. Trinidad and Tobago Tennis Association president Hayden Mitchell added that if there were to be any changes, it would have to coincide with a national plan for sporting.
“We need to address changes in a macro sense,” Mitchell said. “We need a plan so we could decide what direction the country wants to go with sport. We have to develop a master plan for sport and make changes according to that overall plan.”
Both the Tennis Association and residents said the Port of Spain Corporation should, instead of installing facilities for a brand-new hub, maintain and repair the facilities at the park.
Mitchell said the playing surfaces and facilities at the tennis courts have not been upgraded in over ten years. Residents who called for improved walkways and toilet facilities, also called for improved lighting around the park, regular maintenance and garbage removal and more bins.
Calls to mayor Joel Martinez and deputy mayor Hillan Morean went unanswered.