Town, school board renew Optimist Park agreement

Sports By Alexandra Herrera, Reporter Wednesday, May 4, 2022

    The Town of Miami Lakes and Miami-Dade County Public Schools have agreed to continue sharing Optimist Park for another 40 years. 

     The school board voted unanimously on April 13 to amend a joint-use agreement that was to expire in 2042 and extended it until March 31, 2062.

     There are also two 10-year options to extend the agreement to 2082.

     “I would like to thank Town of Miami Lakes Mayor Manny Cid, councilmembers and Town Manager Ed Pidermann for this innovative enhancement for our community,” said school board chair Perla Tabares Hantman, who also lives in town. 

     Pidermann called the signing of the deal “A monumental day for the future of the town.”

     Optimist Park was created a half-century ago as South Florida’s first school-park partnership to serve everyone in the community. 

     The model -- whether located entirely on school sites, in parks or a combination of such properties -- has been replicated throughout the county, including in Doral, Hialeah, Hialeah Gardens; Miramar, Miami Gardens and Key Biscayne, according to the school board.  

     The Sengra Corporation (later The Graham Companies) which developed the town, donated 42 acres along Northwest 67th Avenue south of the Palmetto Expressway to the Dade Public School System in the early 1970s, The Graham Companies said.

     Four separate entities partnered with the firm in the new concept: Dade County Parks and Recreation Department, the Dade Public School System, the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District and the state Department of Natural Resources. 

     When it opened in 1973, the park was home to Optimist Club programs that continue there today.

During the school year, areas of the park are used by students at Miami Lakes Middle School.  Pidermann said almost the entire park -- 31 acres -- will have some level of development.     

      But first, during the Nov. 8, 2022 election, residents will be asked to approve a municipal bond referendum to raise $23-$25 million to fund park improvements.

     The council will have to approve ballot language that Parks and Recreation Manager Jeremy Bajdaun said on April 12 was nearly completed.

      The clubhouse is fairly new, and it and the recently renovated tennis courts are staying in place, Pidermann said. 

     The tennis courts need lighting though, which may be installed prior to a bond sale. 

      New dugouts are currently being built, Pidermann said. 

     Other improvements that would be funded with bond proceeds may include Lighting sports fields; installing an exercise trail with stations around the park that is similar to the one at Veterans Park; a new concession and restroom building with water fountains that will be in the center of five baseball fields and improvements to the existing baseball and tee ball fields.

     There will also be new basketball courts; tennis court fences and seating; additional parking spaces built and improvements made to existing lots.

     Pidermann said irrigation and drainage issues will also be addressed in the redevelopment. Within the agreement, the town is responsible for the overhaul and upkeep of the park. 

     If voters approve the bond sale, the town will ask for bids and the park will undergo a year of construction.