SAN MARCOS — Just eight months ago, the five-acre plot of land adjacent to San Marcos Elementary School was a debris-filled lot, home to impromptu soccer matches and unscrupulous activities.
On Wednesday, Crystal Ashby slid down a brand new playground slide with her 16-month-old daughter Savannah. Sisters Amaris and Jazmin Ortiz played on brand new swings. A local soccer team practiced on a shimmering green artificial-turf field with fresh white hash marks.
“It’s great, there is a lot of stuff here,” the elder Ashby said, as her daughter scurried around the play equipment.
Mary Connors Park, San Marcos’ brand new recreation facility, opened last week, another key piece of the local revitalization of the city’s Richmar community. More than 1,000 people attended the grand-opening celebration, including the City Council and representatives from State Sen. Joel Anderson’s office.
“It is one of our oldest neighborhoods, and it is undergoing somewhat of a renaissance over the last several years,” city Spokeswoman Sarah Divan said. “Connors Park adds a whole open space of developed parkland for the neighboring community to use.
“I was surprised at the level of interest in the park, I think it is because it being on San Marcos Boulevard, which is a main thoroughfare in the city, neighbors and the community were seeing the progress and were excited to get on those fields,” Divan said.
The $3.9 million park was named after the eponymous local educator who spent 50 years serving the community, 31 of those years at San Marcos Elementary as a teacher and principal.
It was largely paid for by a state parks’ grant. It serves the dual purpose of being a community park and a playground for students at San Marcos Elementary, as part of a joint-use agreement between the city and the San Marcos Unified School District.
The park features include two lit basketball courts that double as tennis courts, a half-court that doubles as a miniature skate facility, children play areas, covered eating areas, a concession stand and restrooms and the dual-use synthetic sports field.
It is the second new park for the Richmar neighborhood, once a hardscrabble enclave in the heart of the city. The city re-opened Beulow Park, a two-acre strip along Autumn Drive, in 2011 in connection with the opening of the Autumn Terrace complex.
The changes haven’t been lost on Kyle Baker, a lifelong resident who remembers the Richmar neighborhood before the infusion of public and private investment.
“I had buddies who lived here and let’s just say it wasn’t the best place to grow up,” said Baker, who coaches soccer at Mission Hills High School. “Now, this is a really nice area of the city. It’s good to see the city’s investment into the community and into the youth particularly with this park.
“I remind my players all the time that we didn’t have places like this,” Baker said.