Editor's note: This article is the first part in a multiphase series on the Department of Parks and Recreation and its inability to maintain parks, gymnasiums, pools and other assets. A revolving door attached to the Department of Parks and Recreation director's office, inconsistent and poor leadership, and a lack of funding have led to the department's many assets having fallen into to disrepair. Less than two months ago, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero appointed Roque Alcantara as the latest DPR department head and the community hopes he will be able to add stability and set the department on the right path.
With the Department of Parks and Recreation's inadequate funding, minuscule staffing pattern and lack of consistent leadership, last week’s public oversight hearing painted a bleak picture.
As the Dededo and Hagåtña pools stand in ruin, and many of the island’s public gymnasiums, baseball fields and parks exist, not as safe havens for exercise and competition, but as embarrassing eyesores, members of the community are left to wonder where they will be able to recreate after Guam exits the government-imposed, coronavirus-inspired lockdown.
"I understand that these facilities may be shut down because of COVID, but the day that we move into PROR2 or PCOR3, what is your plan?" Sen. Régine Biscoe Lee asked DPR director Roque Alcantara.
On Sept. 9, Chairperson Sen. Kelly Marsh, Sens. Lee and Telo Taitague, DPR officials and board members, and stakeholders took part in the virtual hearing.
“We do need to make sure that we’re in a place we are moving ahead, that the swim team, the parents, the community, the manamko' … can all understand the path, we’re on it, it’s moving, and we’re progressing,” said Marsh, referring to the closure of the Hagåtña and Dededo pools.
Due to neglect, mismanagement and a lack of accountability for holding a contractor liable for failing to meet contractual obligations, both of the island’s swimming facilities have been left unusable.
"Everybody uses these parks,” said Chris Duenas, a coach with the Manhoben Swim Club and a former Olympic swimmer. “You want to do the (memorandums of understanding)? Do it. We want to (send) the contracts out to maintenance? Hold them accountable.
“That’s the problem, we are not holding these contractors accountable for maintaining the facilities and going back to them and saying, ‘you owe us some money.’”
In February 2020, nearly two years into a maintenance contract for both public pool facilities, Canton Construction was fired for not fulfilling its contractual obligations, but not until it had received $500,000 of a $660,000 deal. Every day, for nearly two years, GovGuam paid Canton $904.11.
During that time, with higher-than-acceptable levels of fecal matter and improper application of chemicals, the Department of Public Health and Social Services had shut down the pools for imposing a public health risk. For nearly half of Canton's contract, the pools had been closed.
“We’ve got to start knocking on their doors and saying, ‘you owe us money,’" Duenas said.
"For every day that our pool is closed, Canton Construction owes the Government of Guam $450," said Duenas, noting that the pools had been closed nearly half of the time.
"That’s crazy! For an ill-maintained pool, we didn’t get what we paid for, We cannot just shake hands and offer pats on the backs for contractors who fail. That money belongs to the people," he added.
In July 2020, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero appointed Alcantara as the latest DPR director. At the top position, in a department plagued with high turnover, he was tapped to bring stability and solutions to the department.
“Before Mr. Alcantara’s appointment, DPR’s leadership switched five times within the period of five months,” Marsh said. … "We finally got enough board members in place to have a board meeting after - I think it was - two or three years of them not having met.”
With over 40 years of contract management experience, Alcantara has spent the first 40 days at his new post familiarizing himself with the department’s assets and recognizing shortfalls. After a little more than a month on the job, he found the department to be seriously lacking in middle management, field workers and equipment.
"Coming into Parks and Rec is a challenge for me,” said Alcantara, who also serves as the head of Guam Major League baseball. “I came in here with very little knowledge of what is in the department.
“I always come down here for baseball, I’m not really familiar with what is going on as far as other parks, or other Parks and Rec other responsibility.
"There is no contract management at all in this department. Contracts are just not being overseen. I am here to make sure all the contracts are in compliance by law," he said.
Alcantara, with prior knowledge, knew all too well of the on-again-off-again problem with the Paseo Baseball Stadium’s field lights, but is still getting up to speed with the pools.
“They are very, very sensitive issues,” he said. … “We had a contract for the Paseo lights, and it is in progress right now. Also, the Dededo pool, the requisition is already down at (the General Services Agency) for the repair.
"The requisition has been at GSA since Aug. 7, and we are waiting for to see if it is ready for a purchase order or if it needs to go out for bid. For the Hagåtña pool, I guess we will have to discuss that. There is a challenge here," he said.
For more than one year, Lee has sent multiple letters to DPR, requesting a status report on the Hagåtña pool. In past public hearings and oversight sessions, everything from a temporary fix to replacement had been proposed.
“I’ve been sending letters since last year, and this is not a problem that is being fixed, this is not a problem that is going away,” she said. “We also don’t have any solution in the meantime.
“We are just burning time and burning opportunities for our community to practice, and get healthy, especially during this time.
“It’s very, very, concerning to me.”