Ocala Recreation Commission nixes idea to provide power at local park pavilions

The Ocala Recreation Commission discussed and ultimately dismissed the idea of providing power at local pavilions during its general meeting on Thursday.

Board members debated the merits and consequences of potentially “turning on” the power at various parks around the city of Ocala.

Toms Park

“In terms of being able to plug stuff in, we have power at Jervey Gantt [Park], but that power remains off, unless it’s being used as part of an event,” said Director Kathy Crile.

Recreation and Parks staff indicated that having power available at all times at pavilions was creating multiple operational issues and was encouraging loitering.

“People congregate to charge their phones, and/or plugin hot plates. Unfortunately, places to charge phones tend to become operations issues, explained Crile. She went on to explain that it was not feasible to have city staff run between parks to turn power on and off on a daily basis.

Crile further added that when the city previously installed power stations around benches in Downtown Ocala, the homeless congregated on a regular basis and the city received complaints from merchants.

Board chairman Bill Ray suggested that electrical boxes might lead to homeless camps.

“What we saw in some cases out west is that before you know it, you have a homeless camp that establishes itself as squatters’ rights around an electrical box. First it’s charging cell phones, and as we’ve already experienced on our outdoor boxes at our permanent facilities, you’re in effect having mobile kitchens” explained Ray.

In addition to loitering and the homeless population congregating, board member Ire Bethea cited safety concerns and suggested that there was too much liability if the city were to enable power usage at pavilions.

“One of the things that concerns me is that a kid goes out there with a hairpin or something to stick in [the outlet] and gets electrocuted,” explained Bethea.

Tuscawilla Park

“To have the power running all the time, I think that’s a big liability. It’s a safety factor to me,” he added.

“It’s my opinion that the parks department, as far as predictable level of service, is not required nor should be required, to be an electrical provider for a user’s discretionary use,” said Ray.

“I don’t see that as being included in our service fee, and I don’t see that being included in our scope of service for pavilions,” explained Ray.

Ray added that residents using or renting indoor buildings would be separate, and should have the reasonable expectation that power be available.

He explained that at state and national parks, including those located in Sumter, Lake, and Seminole counties, visitors pay a service fee to enter, but power is not available at picnic pavilions.

After the discussion, board members approved a motion that the Recreation and Parks Department not be directed to provide electrical service at outdoor picnic pavilions.

What are your thoughts? Do you think power should be provided at outdoor pavilions at parks across the city of Ocala? Share your thoughts in a comment below or in a letter to the editor.