Keeping Gainesville, Florida a Natural Bright Spot
The city of Gainesville WildSpaces and Public Places program (WSPP) operates as the project management office for the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department. Alachua County voters approved the WSPP referendum for a second time in 2016.
Director Betsy D. Waite holds a Bachelor of Science degree from West Point in Civil Engineering and a master’s degree in business administration with a focus on project management from Florida Institute of Technology. Also a professional registered engineer, she is close to obtaining certified park and recreation professional certification.
Notable accomplishments include heating and cooling the Dwight H. Hunter Pool, renovation of the historic Depot Building, construction of the Gainesville/Alachua Senior Recreation Center, acquisition of 395 acres of environmentally sensitive lands, renovation of Smokey Bear Park, construction of Possum Creek Park, renovation of the Thomas Center, construction of the Fred Cone Park Track and more.
The WSPP is funded by a one-half percent sales tax collected in Alachua County to acquire and improve environmentally sensitive lands and to create, improve and maintain parks and recreational facilities. Their budget is expected to reach $60 million by 2025.
Construction is currently underway at Unity Park at 1700 NE 31st Avenue. Improvements to the park include two new basketball courts, a community garden, playground equipment, sidewalk games, a pavilion, grills and a walking loop with fitness stations.
Construction on the Clarence R. Kelly Community Center and Park project at 1701 NE 8th Avenue should break ground in mid-April. Community engagement was used in the planning and design phases to better understand the unique needs and wishes of the neighborhood.
The public can find updates and other notifications on the website. Waite says, “Periodically, there are openings on some of the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs citizen advisory boards. Participation on these boards is also a great way to get involved.” Listings are available at Tinyurl.com/JobsGainesville.
The WSPP team is comprised of skilled professionals that share a passion for Gainesville and its parks. The program has kept more than 75 percent of expenditures local and more than 60 percent with small businesses in fiscal year 2020.
“Antiquated processes, procedures and technology platforms are a challenge with city government, but the biggest obstacle lately has been contractor availability,” explains Waite. “The city of Gainesville has been fortunate to maintain a strong economy throughout the pandemic, but the strong economy has made it difficult to schedule work and get contractor participation on our smaller projects.”
She notes, “Access to parks and the outdoors is crucial for the mental health of our communities. Here in the city of Gainesville, we are fortunate to have so many great spaces to safely enjoy a breath of fresh air, some exercise and the pleasure of observing various wildlife in their natural habitat. I am filled with gratitude for our community and its bright future, may we find inspiration in the generosity of our neighbors, acts of kindness and the beauty of the great outdoors.”
WSPP headquarters is located at 306 NE 6th Ave., in Gainesville. For more information, call 352-393-8187 or visit WildSpacesPublicPlacesGNV.org.