By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor

When the first phase of the 272-acre Gilbert Regional Park opens in September, it will feature the largest municipal splash pad and some of the largest playground slides in Arizona.

And, once built out over the next several years, the park near Queen Creek and Higley roads will serve the needs of the community and region, according to Parks and Recreation Director Robert Carmona.

Carmona and other town staff highlighted Gilbert’s projects and attributes at the annual Legislative Breakfast hosted by Town Council on Jan. 11.

In attendance were Mayor Jenn Daniels, Vice Mayor Eddie Cook, Councilwoman Brigette Peterson and Councilman Jordan Ray.

Area state lawmakers who attended were Reps. Warren Petersen and Travis Grantham, both Republicans for Legislative District 12, Rep. Jeff Weninger, a Republican, and Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, a Democrat, for LD 17 and LD12 Sen. Eddie Farnsworth.

Town Manager Patrick Banger’s community highlights included Deloitte expanding its footprint in Gilbert and bringing 2,500 jobs, voters approving a bond to build a public safety training center and Park University opening a new campus in the Heritage District.

Other amenities at what will be Gilbert’s largest park include the town’s first fully accessible playground, 16 pickleball courts and a 6,000-square-foot splash pad with 55 water features.

“It will be the largest municipal splash pad in Arizona,” Carmona said, adding that upwards of 400 kids can play there during the weekends.

Gilbert currently has one splash pad located at Water Tower Plaza.

The regional park also includes a pavilion overlooking an 8-acre lake and a great lawn designed to accommodate 10,000 people, according to Carmona.

“We are really excited about this,” he said. “Already we have entertainment companies reaching out to us to see when they can book.”

The first phase of another park, Desert Sky, on Power Road between Williams Field and Pecos roads, also is opening in September, bringing much-needed ballfields to the community, according to Carmona.

Water Resources Manager Eric Braun talked about the state’s drought contingency plan and what Gilbert was doing.

The water level at Lake Mead on the Colorado River is dropping, which could lead to cuts in allocations to users such as Arizona. The state is looking at ways to address the issue.

“The entire Colorado River supports Arizona’s economy.” Braun said. “Gilbert is going to lose some of its water and pay more for what is left.”

He said Gilbert over the last 15 years implemented conservation programs to where the town last year saved 375 million gallons of water or 100 acre feet.

He urged state lawmakers to ratify the plan by the Jan. 31 federal deadline.

House Majority Leader Petersen previewed this year’s priorities for Republicans at the legislature – including paying down debt, reforming the state tax code, increasing the rainy day fund, hiking correction officers’ pay and fulfilling the commitment to fund K-12 education.

Correctional officer pay raise has reached a crisis in the state to where the department is finding it hard to staff its ranks, Petersen said.

He added there will be a recession at some point in time and that while the economy is good, it was time to prepare for it.

Farnsworth said the House’s plan pretty much mirrors that of the Senate Republicans. He said the state is looking at a $900 million surplus and lawmakers need to be careful they don’t get into a spending frenzy.

He said it was a real opportunity to pay down debt and buy back the state Capitol building that was sold during the recession while he was not in office.

Weninger said his bills this legislative session include one addressing teen suicide prevention, a bi-partisan measure with Republican Rep. Heather Carter and Democrat Sen. Sean Bowie.

He cited the 31 teen suicides that have occurred since July 2017 in the East Valley. Daniels added that 29 involved boys.

Weninger said his bill will make sure current teachers as part of their continuing education are trained to recognize the warning signs of students contemplating suicide and implement the training in teachers college.