Commissioner Steve Engel represents the uncontested District 5 seat on the Greater Beach and Parks District Board. He has responded in defense of  ‘The District’ to a comment on this article. 

As a sitting commissioner on the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District I feel it’s important to address some of the concerns raised by Mr. Glenn Gromann.

  1. The new facilities at the Swim & Racket Club are by no means a Taj Mahal. New offices for the Beach and Park District take up only a fraction of the total 6000 square feet of S & RC space and are not much, if at all, larger than our current facilities at Sugar Sand Park, which are in great demand for use by local community organizations for meetings and other events. The major improvement that will be gained by moving our offices to the Swim and Racquet Club is the enhancement of our technological capabilities, which should include the broadcast of our meetings in real time. The old restaurant, which currently occupies the premises, has been adjudged to be a serious safety hazard and cannot be renovated. City staff working at the pool is in need of larger facilities (offices, etc.) so they can more do their jobs in a safe and efficient manner. The current locker rooms and changing facilities also need to be made ADA compliant. The new community center will provide those things. In addition to the community center, we are also building permanent office and storage areas for the city maintenance crews that are currently housed in trailers at the south end of the property. Other enhancements include additional parking for users of the facilities and expanded verandas and pavilions that will offer shelter from rain and thunderstorms to camp or school groups, for example, that may be using our facilities. These new facilities are not being built for the benefit of the Beach and Park District, but for our residents. With respect to why we do not hold our meetings at City Hall, our offices are located at Sugar Sand Park and our records, documents and presentation equipment are also located there. It would be a major inconvenience to transport the materials we need to conduct our meetings to City Hall every time we had a meeting. If an unforeseen issue arises, we have information at our fingertips at Sugar Sand that we might not have at City Hall. In addition, the raised dais design of the Council chambers, in my opinion, serves as a division between the Commissioners and our meeting attendees. The fact that we are all on the same level adds to the feeling of accessibility between ourselves and our constituents.
  1. The purchase of property by the Beach and Park District can only take place with the consent of the City of Boca Raton. We cannot purchase property otherwise. It was only after the City had felt its hands were tied that purchase was looked at as an alternative, and they then consulted with us as to the feasibility. The City did not come to us about this previous to that occasion. It should be noted that the City, at any time can go ahead and make property purchases on their own for use as a public beach or to take property off the market. Another question could be what the Planning and Zoning Board’s role was in this issue. With reference to the use of grass vs artificial turf, the District held multiple public hearings on the subject, where all sides were heard. Extensive research was conducted, both in conjunction with members of Recreational Services staff and independently. At the joint meeting between the District and City Council, it was decided that the renovation of fields at Patch Reef would be done with new organic turf, while grass would be used in the installation of fields at the second phase of De Hoernle Park. Money has already been allocated for the installation of these turf fields at Patch Reef. As of this writing, City Council has indicated to us that they may want to use the areas intended for phase two for other purposes. One could also ask what experience the members of City Council have with college or professional sports and how their decisions were arrived at.
  1. I don’t understand why Mr. Koski’s representation of a party in litigation with the City is viewed as a conflict of interest, given that it does not have anything at all to do with his duties as our Executive Director or as our Counsel. The District is an independent entity separate from the city that has not participated in or brought suit against the City.
  1. Charges to non-resident users of our facilities for scheduled team sports is based on the information we receive from the City’s Recreation Services. We have no reason to believe that they would falsify information and no evidence that the teams and leagues involved are doing so. If there is evidence of falsified documentation, I would appreciate bringing that to our attention as soon as possible. Another “little known fact” is that the City wants residents of the newly annexed areas to be treated as District residents. Effectively, District taxpayers will be subsidizing the reduced fees these families will be paying as District “residents”. The reason there is no beach club at Ocean Strand is because the sentiments of local residents mitigate against it, in addition to the fact that there is an ordinance precluding commercial development of property east of A1A. Indoor tennis courts and/or shooting ranges would also necessitate the construction of additional parking facilities. As it is, additional parking facilities are needed adjacent to Gumbo Limbo. Before commenting further on Ocean Strand development, I would like to see City Council’s waterfront development plans, which incidentally no one on the District board has been privy to, even though we are responsible for the operation, maintenance and/or ownership of a large segment of the city’s waterfront property. It is precisely because of the feedback we get from local residents around Ocean Strand that we take the positions we do.
  1. The political affiliations of the BP & D Commissioners are a matter of public record and available at the office of the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections, as are the affiliations of their opponents in the upcoming election. Given that this is a non-partisan election, party affiliation should not be an issue. The only issues should be the record of the incumbents standing for election and their respective visions, as well as the ideas for improving District operations on the part of their opponents. Hopefully, at this level of the political food chain, all concerned will refrain from personal attacks.
  1. There are many meeting days where my regular job takes me to locations as distant as West Palm Beach, Wellington and Tamarac. I plan my day accordingly, to ensure my timely arrival at Sugar Sand. I recall our joint meeting with City Council that Mr. Gromann attended which started at 4 PM. At our last District meeting, we had to bring in chairs from adjacent areas to seat overflow crowds. So I don’t think timing is that much of an issue for those who want to attend. If anyone has any subjects they wish to discuss with members of the Board, they can email any one of us, if attendance at our meetings is inconvenient. My email is Sengel@mybocaparks.org. Please feel free to communicate with me regarding your views, or mine, on pertinent issues. I promise to respond.

Steve Engel, Commissioner – Greater Boca Raton Beach & Parks District