At the Feb. 8 Metro Parks Tacoma (MPT) Board of Commissioners meeting, the majority of the community in attendance was there to discuss just one resolution: the surplus of a current Harmon Park property with Tacoma Public Schools.
According to Lois Stark, chief planner for Metro Parks Tacoma, the basic arrangement of the plan was so that a property exchange of 8.4 acres of land in Harmon Park would be switched with Tacoma Public Schools and added onto the new Baker Middle School in exchange for a parcel that is approximately 19.8 acres in size for development into what would be the new South Tacoma Community Center on an adjacent piece of land near the South End Recreation Area.
“Most of this land was donated for Parks and Recreation Services,” Stark affirmed. “We received a smaller piece of land in 1945 from the Bird family, and it came without deed restrictions. We have worked with the Harmon Foundation for years and Metro Parks Tacoma wants to remove the restriction.”
As of the board meeting, the Harmon Park Foundation had not responded to MPT, but the language in the contract for the piece of land hints that the deed could possibly be amended in the future so that it could be used for other purposes than just parks and recreation, such as schools, Stark noted.
The Tacoma School District is willing to take the Harmon Park land from MPT with the current restrictions. Stark described MPT’s longstanding relationship and past collaborative efforts such as utilizing elementary, middle and high schools’ gyms, cafeterias and outdoor spaces for public use. Stark said MPT believes this exchange would be an efficient use of property.
Superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools Art Jarvis was in attendance during the meeting and echoed MPT’s sentiments about wanting this deal to go through for the equal benefit of both parties.
“The school board authorized me to pursue the possibility of this property,” Jarvis said. “In looking at the land, we directed architects to promote community use and to determine its benefit. We want to proceed with this and want Metro Parks Tacoma to pursue the surplus.”
Steve Holmes, current principal of Baker Middle School, spoke to the benefit of having this land near the new site.
“During the school day, the land on the campus is used all day,” Holmes said. “The main concerns for us are usability. Major points we’re thinking of are to allow the school to be on 84th Street and the design team made it so that more supervision would be possible.”
Newly appointed board Commissioner Erik Hanberg expressed a concern of his after the MPT and Tacoma School Board presentations regarding the ability for kids to spontaneously use a school soccer field when they want to if it will be locked up after hours. Stark answered, noting that the children could access the areas after attaining a gate key.
While it appeared that MPT and all parties representing the Tacoma School District were eager to pursue this project, members from the community came up one by one to express their disapproval of the project for their neighborhood. Bruce Peterson had attained a copy of the deed to the Harmon Park property and stated that it required that no buildings are allowed to be built on the property.
“Once the park property is gone, it’s gone. It’s not to be replaced with property. Recreation areas will be owned by the school district. When can the community use the property if the school board locks it up? Gates won’t encourage public use. I see the district as the only winner.”
Sandra Ford added that the surplus would be a blow to lower income residents in the community.
“The Harmons gave a great gift, and it should stay in the community. Low-income people can’t afford a gate fee. It’s not fair, it’s not.”
Tacoma School Board member Kurt Miller testified next and affirmed that he had not heard anything about the proposed gate fee that may be implemented for after-school usage of the fields and facilities.
“I have 300 signatures of those who support this plan. I hear these concerns and have heard a similar situation in Northeast Tacoma. I want to address the gate fee, I don’t like it.”
Other community members affirmed worries regarding increased buses, cars of parents driving their children to school and traffic along their home streets, in addition to a general opposition to paying a gate fee to enjoy a park that they can currently utilize for free.
The Metro Parks Board of Commissioners is considering final adoption of the resolution relating to the South Tacoma Community Center and Harmon Park property exchange and interested parties may testify at a public hearing before the Park Board on Feb. 22, at the Metro Parks Tacoma headquarters.