Family’s vision for drowned boy’s memorial splash pad at Olympic park lacks city support

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AURORA | Efforts to replace the detention pond at Olympic Park and replace it with a splash pad have stalled in recent weeks after several city council members declined to support the project, according to several council members familiar with the proposal.

In an unofficial poll of city council conducted via email, at least five council members said they wouldn’t support the project, according to City Councilwoman Barb Cleland.

“It is my understanding that there is not enough support on council to do the splash park,” Cleland said.

Cleland had asked council members via email if they would support a 2018 budget amendment for the pond conversion project.

Aurora resident Stephanie Puckett called for the pond to be filled in and replaced with a “splash pad” during the public comment portion of the Feb. 27 city council meeting. Members of Aurora Fire Rescue’s Technical Rescue Team retrieved the body of Puckett’s 6-year-old son, David, from the icy pond Jan. 3, nearly 72 hours after he had gone missing on New Year’s Eve. Aurora Police and community volunteers scoured the neighborhood near Olympic Park in the days after the boy’s disappearance.

“Since David’s death, we’ve since seen other children playing in that pond and it’s absolutely terrifying to us,” Puckett told council. “Our family knows the pain and heartache and we don’t want any other family to go through that.”

Jackie Nass, a friend of Puckett’s, addressed council on her behalf last week and asked council members to reconsider their disapproval.

“I am here to ask you to please not put a price on that child’s life and to realize that this would be wonderful for our community and for everybody,” she said.

Nass originally thought council had taken an official vote against the project, but later learned that was untrue, as council members had merely discussed the project via email.

However, the board of directors for the Spirit of Aurora, a fundraising arm of the city that city employees use to donate to specific social projects, formally decided against setting up a donation pot for the project in an email vote earlier this month, according to Councilwoman Francoise Bergan, who serves as the council liaison for the charity.

“The idea got out there before the facts were in,” she said.

Bergan said the board members cited high cost estimates and a lack of details in their decision not to move forward with the proposal.

“We’re getting into a really, really costly endeavor and it’s obviously for a very good cause — for the family of David Puckett — and I think it just ended up with all these obstacles,” she said. “It really just didn’t make any sense because if it didn’t get approved by council … then you have the task of saying, ‘OK, we just collected money for this, do we refund the money or use it for something else?’ It ends up just being a really convoluted situation.”

Exorbitant cost estimates have made the pond project a tough sell, according to Cleland. The process of filling in the pond and replacing it with a so-called “sprayground” could cost the city nearly $2 million, according to a memo produced by the city manager’s office. Just filling in the pond and adding a new drainage mechanism without adding an activity area could total about $450,000, according to the projections.

Ornamental fencing around the pond would cost an estimated $50,000 and a commemorative bench would cost about $2,205, according to the city memo.

The pond is maintained by the city’s parks, recreation and open space department, and is technically owned by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The city currently has two “spraygrounds” — water-themed activity areas for children, according to Sherri-Jo Stowell, spokeswoman for the city’s Parks department. One of the areas is at Red Tailed Hawk Park and the other is located at Great Plains Park, Stowell said.

Obtaining approval from the Army Corps for the pond proposal could be a lengthy process, according to the memo, and additional parking and drainage issues have also raised concerns.

“Removal of the pond is not only costly but would still result in a wet area that would collect water during most storm events,” according to the memo.

Mayor Steve Hogan said the multitude of agencies involved in the proposed project could pose a logistical quagmire.

“It gets really complicated because even if you want to do something it’s not as simple as filling in a pond,” he said.

Cleland could still introduce a budget amendment to fund the project when the ordinance approving the spring supplemental budget is discussed at a regular council meeting next month. Hogan said the issue could also be forwarded to the city’s water policy committee for debate and approval, although that route appears to be unlikely.

“I’m not aware of any effort to go to a committee,” Hogan said. “That’s probably the least likely prospect.”

Stephanie Puckett said she’s still interested in altering the park’s layout in an effort to make it safer. She said she has set up a GoFundMe page where people can make donations to the cause.

“I’m hoping for the splash pad as it is very hard to see children playing there and not knowing the dangers around it,” Puckett said via Facebook message Wednesday. “I still have not seen the city do anything to make it safer … but I have seen children playing in it. I don’t want to see a tragedy happen to any other family and that is where I stand at this point. This area needs to be a safer environment for the kids of this neighborhood.”