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Reorganization at Parks Department

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Reorganization focuses on stronger neighborhood parks

There will be five new divisions: Roger Williams Park, neighborhood parks, the Botanical Gardens, forestry, and the zoo.

BY BY KAREN A. DAVIS Journal Staff Writer | February 14, 2005

PROVIDENCE -- City officials have designed a plan to reorganize the Parks Department in an effort to make it more efficient and raise awareness of neighborhood parks.

Alix Ogden, superintendent of the department, announced the plan at a meeting of the city Board of Park Commissioners on Friday.

Ogden said the reconfiguration of parks management is necessary because the department changed greatly since it was overhauled in 1982.

Before 1982, the Parks Department was responsible for Roger Williams Park and 30 to 40 other parks that did not have many programs or activities.

In 1982, massive changes in the City Charter gave the department responsibility for all public green space, ballfields and school fields.

Also, the number of public parks has grown and more maintenance is required, even as the number of employees assigned to them has decreased, Ogden said.

Currently, the department oversees 112 sites, not including school properties.

In the past, all divisions of the department, including the Roger Williams Park Casino, the North Burial Ground cemetery, Roger Williams Park Zoo, the Natural History Museum, the division of forestry, grounds maintenance, finance, payroll, zoo veterinary staff and park rangers reported to the superintendent's office, Ogden said.

That meant as many as 30 division managers reported to Ogden and Robert McMahon, deputy superintendent.

Under the reorganization, there will be five new divisions: Roger Williams Park services, neighborhood parks services, the Botanical Gardens, which is expected to open in the fall of 2006; forestry, and the zoo.

Ogden said parks the Parks Department will not increase its budget.

However, one long-term goal of the reorganization would be to locate a new maintenance office at the North Burial Ground, off Branch Avenue and North Main Street.

Robert Salem, who is in charge of grounds maintenance, will serve as the Roger Williams Park manager and Beth Charlbois will be the director of the neighborhood parks division.

Currently, park maintenance is located at Roger Williams Park. The new organization will allow maintenance staff at the north office to better serve parks on the northern end of the city, while the Roger Williams office will handle southern end sites.

"It really is an exciting project," Ogden said. One primary goal "is to make sure we're paying attention to our neighborhood parks," by from summer programs to mowing lawns. "We wanted to create more efficiency, with the idea being we're getting out to our parks more often."

"We're very excited about this," said Mayor David Cicilline, who serves as a park commissioner. "This is a great example of the superintendent having devoted time to thinking strategically" about how to to do more with less while strengthening the mission of the department.

In recent years, the Parks Department has been the subject of criticism and accusations of mismanagement. Several former employees faced charges of embezzlement and former longtime superintendent Nancy Derrig resigned more than a year ago.

The mayor praised Roger Williams Park as remaining the "gem" of the city parks system. However, he noted that Ogden, when she was hired more than a year ago, understood the equal importance of the neighborhood parks system.

While Roger Williams Park continues to be a regional tourist attraction, the neighborhood parks "are where most people in the city enjoy recreation and open space on a daily basis," Cicilline said. "Public parks are central to the quality of life in our neighborhoods."

The mayor said he thinks the creation of the neighborhood services division will better promote and create activities in local parks based on the needs of the neighborhood.

From The Providence Journal

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