Nueces County leaders are still moving forward with a $1 million park renovation project in Banquete, with the aim of making it the premier family gathering site in the area.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Betty Jean Longoria, who spearheaded the effort over the past few years to gain funding for the project from the state, said the park improvements will be proceeding in two phases.

Phase 1 will include renovations to the park's baseball field, including improvements to the parking lot, lighting, concessions area, restrooms, as well as renovations to a playground area. Phase 2 will focus on the rest of the park projects, which include the construction of a picnic area and walking trails.

No decision has been made, though, on whether to build a lake area at the park, Longoria said. Early plans had called for a lake of an undetermined size to be constructed, but the focus, for now, will remain on the park itself.

"Right now, tentatively, we're still hoping for some type of lake in there," Longoria said. "As we move on, with the cost and everything, then we'll see whether we can still be able to afford to put a lake in there."

The county received a $500,000 grant last year from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to renovate a 17-acre stretch of land in Banquete. The property was donated by the Banquete Independent School District in 2006 and contains a baseball field and concession area. It is located near the high school.

The school district had donated the land because it would have been unable to develop the property properly and renovate the baseball field, since they had already constructed a brand new, multi-million dollar elementary school, county officials have said. Longoria has about $500,000 allocated to the project, money that was part of the Certificates of Obligation 2004 Series, bringing the total budget to $1 million.

Banquete ISD superintendent Jim Rumage said he is looking forward to the park's construction. The district is working to complete its own renovations across the district from a $5.3 million bond package approved by voters in 2007.

Currently, work is still being done on the high school's all-weather track and the district is preparing to go out for bids on a $500,000 project for roof repairs at the district's four campuses.

"We're kind of a thriving little community," Rumage said, adding that he is glad to see the county bring such a large investment to the small town, which has a population of about 600 residents.

"Were very thankful to the county commissioners that they're finally going to do something in this part of the county," Rumage said. "We definitely appreciate it and we will take care of it."

Longoria said her goal has always been to improve the quality of life for residents in the county, no matter the size of the town. Having funds from the 2004 bonds has allowed those types of projects to take place when they ordinarily might not have been possible within the county's normal budget.

"Keep in mind, and people need to understand this, we normally do not have money to do these kind of projects," Longoria said. "The parks have monies to maintain, but not build new parks."

For Rumage, he hopes the new park, when it is complete, will allow for families to earn a better quality of life through exercise and spending time with one another.

"It will definitely be a place for our children and our parents to go together and recreate themselves. That's what recreation is - to recreate yourself," Rumage said. "There's too much sitting on the couch, eating popcorn and ice cream and not enough getting out and exercising.

"This will definitely give them a place to get out and run."