A sudden windfall of grant money has created a flurry of activity in the City of Driscoll, and local officials hope the new money will lead to the completion of several major projects in the city by this summer.
Driscoll City Administrator Sandra Martinez said Monday the city has recently begun executing three separate grants, totaling $686,000, which will bring a new city park, replace several dilapidated houses and upgrade water lines on the east side of town.
The first grant, provided by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, was approved in August 2007, but was delayed because of "red tape," Martinez said. The grant will fund $100,000 in improvements to the City Park located on the east side of town, with $50,000 in cash provided by the TPWD, $25,000 provided in cash by the city and $25,000 in labor provided by the city.
The planned improvements include repairing and upgrading the existing pavilion, basketball court and pathways and adding a youth soccer league field, a sand volleyball court and two horseshoe pits. The park will also receive game and picnic tables, a barbecue pit, a fitness and rest station along the pathway and a hummingbird and butterfly garden.
"When I first got here, there were two wooden swings that were falling apart, and we had to take them down," Martinez said, of the existing park.
The city is currently in the process of selecting a contractor for the park, and Martinez said she hopes to have the improvements completed within the next few months.
The second grant the city has recently begun using is a Home Program grant provided by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.
That grant, which was originally awarded in Nov. 2006 for $286,000, will provide new housing for three local families.
Under the grant, state officials selected the homes of three needy families on East Avenue G for demolition and reconstruction.
Bobby Castellano, the Public Works Director for the City of Driscoll who oversaw the demolition, said those homes were in shocking condition.
"There was a lot of deterioration on the sheet rock, some mold. You could tell some small animals had been living in there," Castellano said. "One of the homes took about 15 minutes to demolish, that's what kind of condition it was in."
Driscoll Mayor Pro Tem John Aguilar said he was concerned for the safety of the residents who had been living in those homes.
"The living conditions were pretty bad. One of the houses was almost hitting the ground," Aguilar said.
"As quickly as they knocked it down, I don't think it would have survived a wind storm. And these were families that didn't have the means to rebuild or remodel."
Under the terms of the grant, the families who live in the new homes will not be required to pay back any of the funds used for their construction, as long as they live in the home for at least five years.
City workers completed the demolition on the homes this week, and construction was expected to begin on the new houses in the next few weeks.
The third grant administered by the city is a Community Development Block Grant, totaling $300,000, awarded to the city by the Office of Rural Community Affairs in May 2008.
The grant, which will require the city to provide $15,000 in matching funds, will be used to replace undersized water lines on the east side of town, Martinez said.
The existing two-inch lines were installed in the early 1980s, Castellano said, and are below modern specifications. The grant money will pay for the installation of 6,900 linear feet of six-inch line, which will give better service to residents in that area and will allow for expansion on the east side of town in the future.
The city has completed almost all elements needed for the project to proceed, Martinez said, although they are currently waiting to obtain a necessary easement from a local business before moving forward.
The matching funds needed to pay for this grant and the park grant will be taken from settlement money the city received in a lawsuit two years ago, and not from taxpayer dollars, Martinez said.
All of the improvements show the city has turned a corner, Martinez said, moving away from disagreement and discord and toward a united community.
"We're kind of showing that regardless of what political spectrum you come from, we can do things for our community," Martinez said.
Aguilar said the city has already had volunteers come forward to help with the park construction, and that, combined with the coming improvements, means positive things for the City of Driscoll.
"Everybody's focused on moving forward, as opposed to dwelling on the past," Aguilar said. "For the most part, I think everybody's come together supporting the changes that we've brought. And that's something we can build on."