As Ceres prepares for an influx of visitors to Christmas Tree Lane beginning Saturday, Dec. 2, much of Smyrna Park will remain off limits as its multi-million makeover takes place.
The large covered picnic structure – which had been the scene of countless Christmas festivals and family and community gatherings – was dismantled in September and is a fenced-off construction zone with the ground being transformed into a new parking lot.
McFadden Construction Inc. will be working on the Smyrna Park rehabilitation project toward an expected completion date between March and May 1, 2024.
The $3.23 million park makeover is being paid for by a Clean California Local Grant Program (CCLGP) grant administered by Caltrans with the city adding $1.3 million of federal ARPA funds.
Ceres City Engineer Kevin Waugh said the Lions Club picnic shelter was removed for a new parking lot on the spot with the intent to allow for safer pedestrian movement. Meanwhile, a new plaza with two separate covered pavilion picnic areas is being constructed on the former Fowler Road parking lot site. Waugh said that one picnic shelter will be covered by a similar metal structure while the other will be covered with sail cloth shade structures.
“We’re actually substituting that big one with two equal-sized ones … so we can rent it out to more families,” said Waugh.
The old masonry block restroom near the children’s play area was also razed.
Remaining open during construction is the children’s playground area, the new park restroom, the parking lot off of Rose Avenue and George Costa Fields.
The skate park is closed but will reopen after murals have been added to stop the graffiti, said Waugh. High school art students are painting the murals.
When considering where to spend the grant funds, Smyrna Park was determined to be in the highest need for improvement of all Ceres parks based on greatest community use, age of facilities, the high volume of vandalism and graffiti, security concerns and increased maintenance costs. Waugh said many of the park’s features could not be used because of safety or maintenance issues. The park also doesn’t have enough pathways and covered picnic areas. The city designed new improvements based on community input.
The Rose Avenue parking lot will remain but there will be improved sidewalks built to and from it, as well as the installation of bicycle racks.
“Basically what happened is everybody’s just creating their own paths through the park,” said Waugh, “and we’re trying to utilize the natural flow but also make it better suited to people with wheelchairs so they could enjoy the park more. So we’re going to be providing pathways throughout the park.”
The project calls for some trees to be removed and 100 trees to be planted along with drought tolerant landscaping. Architectural fencing, walkways with ramps for the disabled, new shade structures, more tables with barbecue pits and new trash enclosures are all part of the makeover.
Waugh wanted to rehabilitate the children’s playground area as part of the project but funding wasn’t available. He intends to seek proposals to add new elements for kids since most of the playground equipment is in good shape.
The city plans to remove the park’s metal corporation yard and building once the city has room at its Railroad Avenue corporation yard after shifting water operations to 1921 Rockefeller Drive. That space would be ideal for pickle ball courts, said Waugh.