Supervisors settle on half full solution for lily pond
Board of Supervisors vote to fence off pond at Mooney Grove for five years, ask public to raise money needed to fully restore 80-year-old water feature
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – Tulare County will not tear down a water feature at the state’s oldest county park, but it isn’t going to fix it either.
At its Oct. 8 meeting, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to fence off the more than 80-year-old lily pond at Mooney Grove Park for the next five years, giving the public that time to raise enough money to restore it. Maria Bryant, an analyst for the County’s General Services Agency, said the option would allow tax deductible donations to go through the Friends of Tulare County, give the public time to raise other donations of in-kind donations of labor and materials from local businesses and for the County to seek federal and state grant funding.
The decision to offer the low-cost alternative was needed after costs to restore the pond exceeded $700,000. On July 29, the County only received two proposals to restore the lily pond from potential bidders, only one of which met the requirements of the request for proposal (RFP) issued in May. The only responsible bid came from Sierra Designs with the design costs up to $146,915 and construction costs as high as $600,000.
Mary Bryant, founder of the nonprofit the Real Mooney Grove Project, Inc., called Sierra Designs bid “outrageous” and said she already has a contractor willing to do the work at a fraction of the cost. Her original estimates to the Board was less than $150,000 in May. Bryant said the lily pond was completely restored by veterans and community donations in 1996, so most of the piping was only used for a few years before it was disconnected.
“You can take that $400,000 and do a lot more at Mooney Grove,” Bryant said.
Benavides presented the Board of Supervisors with five options: 1) move forward with the bid submitted by Sierra Designs, 2) tear down the pond and landscape over it, 3) replace the pond with an artistic memorial, 4) convert the pond into a gated memorial or 5) enclose the pond with wrought iron fence advertising a five-year fundraising campaign to repair the pond.
The most economical option was to scrap the pond altogether, an option that some of the public is passionately against. David Nicholson said the lily pond has a special place in his family’s heart as it has been a fixture of family outings for generations. He said he grew up playing at Mooney Grove Park, as were his own children and now their children.
“That was my playground as a kid,” Nicholson said. “I want to see the pond rebuilt so my children, grandchildren and my future great-grandchildren can look at it and see that grandpa had something to do with this.”
Nancy Hawkins, a member of the Parks Advisory Commission, confirmed that the Real Mooney Grove Project’s proposal did not meet the County’s requirements. The commission originally voted in July to support an artistic monument to replace the pond, but had since changed its recommendation after strong opposition from the public. She said putting a wrought iron fence around the pond would cost between $7,000 and $10,000 and could be used to hang banners promoting fundraising efforts to restore it.
John Rogers, who lives on Avenue 264 near the park, was among the most vocal opponents against removing the pond. He asked the Board to approve the fundraising option and give the public an opportunity to save the historic pond. Thought to have been built in the 1930s, the pond was once vibrant with a fountain, fish, and of course, lilies at the oldest county park in the state of California.
“For those of us who grow up at the park, it’s a very special place,” Rogers said. “The proposal from commission is the right proposal. We will do our best to raise as much as we can.”
Supervisor Amy Shuklian thanked Rogers and Park Advisory Commission for their passion before motioning to approve option 5. “If we had that much money, there are a lot of other areas of the park we could upgrade,” Shuklian said. She reminded the public that they have an opportunity to help with some of the smaller projects at Mooney Grove on Saturday, Oct. 26 as part of Make A Difference Day. Volunteers interested in helping plant trees and repaint benches are asked to arrive at 8 a.m.
Supervisor Dennis Townsend seconded the motion and it was approved 4-0. Supervisor Eddie Valero was absent.