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New Latino Health Access Park and Community Center Fosters a Healthier Lifestyle for Families in Santa Ana

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Families in a densely populated, immigrant community with few, if any, park facilities, now have a place to exercise, play and learn about healthy living. The new $3.6 million park and community center, which is scheduled to officially open for public use on Sunday, April 21, 2013 is the progression of years of effort to bring much-needed outdoor recreational space to downtown Santa Ana.

Built by Latino Health Access (LHA), the .6 acre park project is the first community-driven recreational and educational public space of its kind promoting health and wellness in a resource-challenged community. It is located at 602 E. 4th Street, adjacent to one of the largest condominium complexes in Santa Ana.

America Bracho, President and CEO of LHA is a long time advocate of the belief that the community has the real power to implement change, and this park is the best proof of it.  ”Our new park is the dream of almost ten years for the community to have a place where our children can play and families can exercise and learn about healthy living. It is only through the initial vision of a group of moms and help of local government, businesses and community members that our long awaited park has now become a reality,” said Bracho.

Constructed on land leased from the City of Santa Ana and property donated by the Gonzalez Family of the Northgate Market, the park project began after a group of mothers brought the idea to Latino Health Access. Since then, parents have joined to form Parents with Green Hearts Committee, a community group aimed at bringing the park project to fruition. Local families, functioning as the park steering committee which provided input into the project design, plan to have a prominent, volunteer role in the maintenance of the facility and grounds, and raised money to support construction/implementation of the project.

Additional funding for the park was provided by private donors and a State of California grant from Proposition 84 Statewide Park and Nature Education Facilities Programs.  McCarthy, its design-build partner TAYLOR and Petra ICS (formerly St. Joseph Health System) donated more than 2,000 hours of architectural and preconstruction services. Furthermore, construction services were provided by McCarthy, subcontractors and vendors at a discounted rate to Latino Health Access in order to meet the limited budget of the non-profit organization.

“We are overwhelmed by the generosity and support of the design and construction community to build this park for LHA,” said Shaun Sleeth, McCarthy project manager for the LHA project.   “A significant number of man hours and supplies have been donated in order to complete this park project that took nearly one year to build. Although the project added time to my work day, the children looking down from their condominium balcony at the construction activity below in anticipation of finally having a safe place to play kept me and our team going. This park means a healthier way of living for these families, and I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a part of this community driven project.”

Almost ten years in the making, the park project which was originally conceived as a humble grass field has grown into much more due to the community’s involvement. Jim Bostic, V.P., Construction for Petra ICS explains:  “In the summer of 2004, the St. Joseph Health Construction Division was approached by America Bracho and the LHA Board with a request for help — development was needed on a piece of land in the heart of the poorest area in Orange County. The original, simple concept was to create a grass field for the children of Santa Ana, helping them off of the street and out of the local parking lots.

“With the commitment and hard work of hundreds of volunteers and local families, that original dream soon spread, growing the space into a modern community center and full play park.  This project is proof that God can do extraordinary things using ordinary people. It has been a long journey with many bends in the road, but we have persevered together and have overcome every challenge that has arisen.  As a result, the families of Santa Ana will be blessed for many years to come.”

Designed with the community and healthy activity in mind, the new LHA Park and Community Center includes both recreational and educational space for free or low-cost health and educational programming provided by LHA and collaborating partners. Various nutrition, exercise, parenting and other health related classes as well as English as a Second Language (ESL), computer literacy and job development will be among some of the offerings at the Center. The space will also be available for community activities recommended by the Resident Park Board made up of neighboring community residents and leaders.

Master planned by CDPC as recreation space for an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 surrounding residents, the park features open field play areas, a tot-sized basketball court, two playgrounds with age-appropriate equipment, restrooms and security features.  The 2,500-square-foot community center houses a full-size industrial kitchen, a glass paned lobby area, restrooms and a large multi-purpose room with audio and visual equipment for large community events. Mobile room dividers have been incorporated to provide flexible space for multiple classes.

“Because this park and community center was built by the community for the community, the design takes its cues from the people it will serve,” said Damon Barda, architect with TAYLOR. “Respectful in scale to the neighboring residences and shops, its form and materials speak to its civic function. A defined entry way welcomes the community to the simple, well-proportion structure with its distinctive red roof. Multicolored tiles help to define the entry lobby and the outdoor gathering space, and the bright mix of colors serve as a visual metaphor for the diversity of the community.”

In keeping with the social sustainability goals of the project, eco-friendly construction methods and materials were used to build the park and community center. The site itself is previously developed and in the heart of the community. Within walking distance are banks, churches, schools, shopping and several connections to main bus lines. This proximity helps the building connect with the community and reduces vehicular trips at the same time.

The low-impact building incorporates various environmentally sustainable features.  Building materials are straightforward, locally sourced, and many of them are recycled or/recyclable — concrete masonry block, structural steel and a standing seam metal roof. Deep roof eaves shelter the tall, clerestory windows from the sun, while the windows themselves are thermally efficient. Furthermore, the windows and doors are all crafted from aluminum which, like the structural steel, is primarily recycled content. High efficiency lighting, energy-star compliant appliances, and low flow plumbing fixtures have also been incorporated into the facility.

The park’s irrigation system utilizes the most water conscious approach available, while still maintaining healthy turf for outdoor play. Weather sensors are used to reduce water usage when rain is present and solar sensors automatically adjust irrigation timing to provide additional watering when extreme heat is present.

(R)