Updated San Manual community park set to open April 21

Richard Urban

By Richard Urban / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

On April 21 the San Manual community park, a gathering and recreation spot for the rural, former mining town in southeastern Pinal County, will be reincarnated with a new, well-equipped and shaded playground, a new basketball court with room for pickleball, a refurbished ballfield with backstop, and a ramada that will be completed this summer.

The project has been in the works since the county took over the park and an adjoining community center in early 2019 from BHP, the Australian mining, metals, and petroleum company that had closed the nearby San Manual copper mine and smelter 20 years earlier.

The housing development, built in the early 1950s to provide quarters for mineworkers and their families, is now a community of about 3,700 at the foot of the Galiuro Mountains and a gateway to the Arizona Trail that attracts hunters, sightseers, and offroad adventurers.

Over the years, the park at the center of the development had fallen into disrepair. Tree roots had broken up the surface of the basketball court where the backboards were missing. Only the net posts remained on the tennis courts. The light poles were without electrical power. A swimming pool had been filled in, but the concrete and plumbing remained underground.

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Kent Taylor, Pinal County director of open space and trailsPhoto courtesy of Pinal County

“Probably more concerning from a safety and use perspective was the playground equipment from the ’60s,” said Kent Taylor, Pinal’s director of open space and trails. “And playground equipment from the ’60s does not meet the standards for playground equipment for 2020s.”

Initially, the county allocated about $300,000 for the restoration project. As part of the property transfer, BHP agreed to provide seed money to revamp the park and demolish existing structures.

After a first round of bidding during the summer of 2020 failed to find a contractor, the county regrouped and found a way to combine the BHP funds with Community Development Block Grants and county parks improvement funds and pair the San Manual project with a smaller community park refurbishment in Dudleyville.

The result, Taylor said, was a $650,000 project that attracted a contractor to take on the project and brought both parks up to federal Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

“It was really a win-win,” Taylor said. “San Manual gets their park improvements, and we were able to do some really needed ADA and safety compliance upgrades and add to the package something that a contractor would be interested in, making it a little more viable project for them.

“In our world, being able to take over a property in February of 2019 and going through a public planning process and procurement and securing funding and getting the construction project done by April of 2022 — that's like lightspeed,” he said. “We're pretty stoked.”

Meanwhile, the nearly 2,000-square-foot community center building adjacent to the park has taken on new life, as the nonprofit San Manual Revitalization Coalition, which was set up to manage the building, reinvigorated it as a central meeting place that is being used for youth conferences, educational programs and community events such as movie nights, birthday parties, baby showers and receptions.

So far, building improvements have been largely cosmetic, said Kennedy Ivey, president of the Coalition. For example, a Tucson artist, Alexandra Trujio, funded by the nonprofit Copper Town Association, is painting a mural across the front of the building.

But handicap accessibility and upgrades to lavatories are still needed.

“The unfortunate thing is that with all of the supply chain disruptions and inflation and stuff, it takes a lot more than we had anticipated to get some of these renovations done,” he said. “So, we're talking about possibly a CDBG grant, maybe trying to apply for one of those to see if we can make some improvements. But our primary thing was actually getting programming run out of there first.”

Meanwhile, the adjacent park will provide an updated recreational outlet for the community.

“We're pretty excited that we were able to make that happen,” Taylor said. “It's definitely a nice facility and something that the community will benefit from for years to come.”

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Richard is an award-winning journalist with more than 40 years experience in newspaper and magazine publishing. He has covered topics that include local and state government and politics, courts and crime, environment, business and innovation.

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