Seven community members are vying for two open positions on the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District’s board of directors in the countywide Special Election on May 21.

“We’ve never had seven candidates run for election, so this is kind of a new experience for me,” Executive Director Skyler Archibald said during a candidate forum held May 2 at the Bob Chisholm Community Center and sponsored by the district and the Seaside Signal. “I’m looking forward to seeing the results of the election and moving forward and working with our board to provide the best quality of services that we can.”

Katharine Parker, Shirley Yates, Marti Wajc, and John Chapman are on the ballot for Position 4, while Patrick Duhachek, Lindsey Morrison, and Rodney Roberts are competing for Position 5.

“I think that’s a real testament to not only (Archibald) but also his staff and where he’s taken parks and rec over the past few years,” Chapman said. “If people didn’t believe in what parks and rec was doing, we wouldn’t see this many people up here.”

Throughout the course of the forum, candidates introduced themselves and shared their ideas about the future of the district, potentially expanding the organization’s facilities and boundary, and its role in emergency preparedness.

Expansion?

Asked whether they supported the approximately $20 million bond measure on last year’s ballot that would have gone toward expanding the current aquatic and youth center facilities but was voted down, Chapman, Wajc, Duhachek and Morrison said they voted “no.”

With the number of bond measures included on the ballot — including one for improving the county’s jail — there was heavy competition for taxpayer dollars, which have to be considered across the board, Chapman said. Although he desires an expansion, there were obstacles and unanswered questions that influenced his vote at the time.

Duhachek agreed it was “too much, too soon,” but expressed interest in pursuing alternative funding sources for the expansion. Morrison added she also didn’t want to add to the tax burden, especially for the community’s elderly population, and suggested the district consider grants.

In Wajc’s opinion, “bigger is not always better.” She believes the district has enough space with its existing facilities and they should focus on maintenance rather than expanding.

Rodney and Parker both voted “yes” on the measure, as they mutually believe the district needs more indoor recreation space for the public, such as a basketball court and walking track.

They understood, however, why the timing wasn’t ideal for the public, especially with the school district’s bond measure to fund the new campus having passed only a couple years ago. They would like to revisit the concept and investigate how to better approach funding the expansion.

Old school buildings an option?

The candidates also discussed if and how the middle and high school could be used by the district when they are vacated in 2020.

Morrison said trying to lease or rent the facilities would be preferable to purchasing them outright.

Wajc added they could rent a gym or other space on the school property for special occasions when the need arises.

The candidates agreed, however, the schools being located in the tsunami zone is problematic. Additionally, Chapman said, the buildings are deteriorating and maintenance is being postponed in anticipation of moving to the new campus for the 2020-21 school year.

He brought attention to the lack of resources, including gyms and outdoor playing fields, that will manifest if the buildings are destroyed. The Pacific Basketball League currently uses those venues for eight to nine weeks in the winter during its coastal tournaments.

Chapman sees an opportunity for the district to pursue the middle school property as part of a communitywide development and then manage rentals of the space, which could become a valuable resource. However, he added, “If you want to attract visitors from outside to use those facilities, you need to give them something to want to come to.”

Roberts and Duhachek agreed the district will want to maximize value on the properties, which are in prime locations, but it is worth studying how they could fit into the district’s future.

Tsunami preparedness

Finally, the candidates also addressed how the district’s role in emergency preparedness and resiliency in the event of a natural disaster, such as a tsunami.

The candidates agreed the district’s facilities, because of their location, would be useless as shelter space, as they are likely to be decimated by a high-magnitude earthquake and tsunami.

Chapman, Wajc, and Parker believe emergency preparedness requires the efforts of several agencies, including the city, law enforcement, school district and fire department, and the district could participate by offering educational programs or in other capacities.

In Duhachek’s opinion, the district should stick to its mission and “do what it does best, and that’s run recreation programs.”

“Other entities are better capable of coming up with a tsunami evacuation plan,” he said.

Morrison and Roberts agreed, adding the district’s main involvement should be making information and resources available for visitors at the pool or other spaces used by the public.

Candidate Shirley Yates

Shirley Yates an attendance assistant at Seaside High School and local minister, was unable to attend the forum, but coworker Jenny Rapp read a letter on her behalf.

In the letter, Yates described her various volunteer activities in the community, which include establishing the Laundry Love initiative, serving as a Chamber of Commerce ambassador, and singing at the hospital and assisted living facilities. If elected, she wants to support the staff in creating “a fun, clean and attractive environment and activities.”

“Looking ahead, I desire this season for SEPRD be one of continued growth,” she added.

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