ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A longtime problem park on the west side is getting new life. The city is hoping approximately $206,000 worth of security improvements will help keep crime and drugs out of Lavaland Park on Coors, north of Central.

“Needle usage was a big issue before,” City Councilor Lan Sena explained. “This is really a big community investment. We’re addressing those issues and to make the community and those who use the park feel safe.”

“This makes the park more accessible and not for the homeless and drug users,” West Mesa Neighborhood Association President Steven Budinski stated.

For the first time, kids will get to play on the $120,000 playground that’s been sitting unused since 2018 while the park was closed. The newer safety additions include LED lighting, about 700 feet of fencing, and it’s the first and only city park to get a turn stop gate that locks automatically when people exit the west side of the park. That gate facing Coors is also timed to lock between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

“We really, I think, have transformed it from something that was a little bit sketchy to something spectacular,” Parks and Recreation Director Dave Simon said. He added that this could be a model for other city parks. “I think we have broken new ground and set new standards here at Lavaland Park for creative new approaches for keeping parks safe and secure, and some of the creative ideas we came up with that were supported by the neighborhood certainly have applicability at other parks,” Simon said.

Former City Councilor Ken Sanchez, who passed away in January, had been working with the neighborhood associations for years, holding public meetings to get their ideas for the best way to reopen the park. Lavaland park improvements were paid for with Sanchez’s set aside funds.

Over the past couple of years, people had cut holes in the chain-link fence to get in when the park was closed. Sanchez had originally wanted to reopen it last summer but there were construction delays.

Simon says by the end of the month, the city will have finished $1.6 million worth of safety upgrades to more than 80 city parks. The parks department says it’s too soon to know how its budget for the coming year will be impacted because of the pandemic.