TAMPA — A month after a toddler drowned in a riverside city park, the Tampa City Council is asking for a study of the cost of keeping people away from water features at the city’s parks, despite parks officials protest that such an effort would be impractical.
Councilman Frank Reddick raised the issue after the death of Armani Pierce, 2, who drowned in the Hillsborough River on Aug. 13 while his family visited Temple Crest Park.
Nearly half the city’s 151 parks have some sort of water feature. Together, city parks encompass 38.5 miles of waterfront.
City officials said erecting fences to block access to those features would defeat the purpose of having them and would cost too much to be practical.
“To look at all of those parks and make a decision that they all need to be fenced for safety would be cost-prohibitive,” City Attorney Julia Mandell told council members Thursday.
In an earlier letter to council members, Parks and Recreation Director Greg Bayor told council members his staff could find no standards for fencing off water features other than swimming pools. Bayor didn’t attend Thursday’s meeting.
Council members were not buying either argument.
Reddick pointed out the city council was being asked at that same meeting to approve a $200,000 payment to the family of 11-year-old Brittany Mills, who drowned in a city pool in 2009.
“This park and recreation department can sit here and tell me, tell this council, tell every taxpayer in this city it’s cost-prohibitive for safety reasons,” Reddick told Mandell. “You’re going to be back here another day asking the same council to approve another settlement.”
The question isn’t just one of cost, Mandell countered. She asked if the city really wants to close off all its water features. In many cases, those water features make the parks attractive in the first place, she said.
Reddick wasn’t dissuaded. There ought to be a way to keep the city from having to pay settlements because people drown in its parks, he said.
“There’s a safety issue here,” he said. “If we can save one person, I don’t think it’s cost-prohibitive.”
Councilman Mike Suarez urged city officials to try harder to find standards for fencing off hazards. Tampa is not the only city with water features in its parks, he said.
“There has to be some standards somewhere,” he said. “If not, we should set the standards.”
The debate prompted Councilwoman Lisa Montelione to ask for a delay in the $760,400 renovation of Zack Street, also on Thursday’s agenda.
Montelione said she didn’t want to “wall off the river” but said she was concerned about the city’s spending priorities.
“If we can spend $760,000 on a promenade of the arts, we can spend some money to do a little investigating,” Montelione said. “We can spend some money protecting children and adults alike from the hazards they face.”
Council members held off voting on the Zack Street work until their Sept. 26 meeting. They asked parks officials to return Oct. 3 with a cost analysis on fencing.