Rick Knight was juggling a view ordinance dispute, a reroofing project at a ballfield canteen, cutting water use at city parks, planning a kitchen remodeling project at the Senior Center, and overseeing cemetery drainage work on a drizzly morning in late March. A typical day for Benicia’s Superintendent of Parks and Building Maintenance.
Few jobs are as varied and require as much flexibility. Rick might be helping a homeowner navigate the city’s tree ordinance requirements, then have to solve a plumbing problem at a park restroom. Or direct workers to lower city flags to half-staff. Or meet county health inspectors at one of the city’s kitchens. Or address vandalism at a playground. Rick and a staff of 18 plus contractors deal with all that and more.
This is not what Rick expected he’d be doing when he majored in exercise science at the University of Utah. “My whole life was going to be athletics. I played pro football and after an injury, I went to baseball,” he says.
But during the off-season, construction work paid the bills. He went on to become a police officer but returned to construction after three years of undercover work.
Rick didn’t expect to stay on city staff very long when he was hired as a building maintenance worker in 1988.
“The pay was so low I figured I would only be here a couple of months,” he says, laughing.
Rick and his family moved to Benicia in 1990. He has a grown daughter and a toddler granddaughter. Rick, who turns 55 this month, and his wife, Mary Maloney Knight, live in town and enjoy golfing, playing bocce ball, cycling, and riding motorcycles.
What’s the biggest challenge facing Benicia’s parks? The biggest thing is the drought. We’re cutting back on 20 percent of our water usage. We went through every park. One of the things we have to consider is keeping the ball fields safe and playable.
We have a computerized irrigation system that takes wind and weather conditions into consideration to judge when to water. If it’s hot and windy, that tells the system how much to water. We’ll have to adjust that. We’ve saved a lot with this system. We used to spend $480,000 a year on water, and we’ve cut that in half the past 10 to 12 years.
People will notice a 20 percent cutback in water. You will see some of it. We’re going to aerate more often. It doesn’t cost us anything and we will be watering more effectively. We’ll mulch the landscape areas more frequently.
What work does your staff do at the pool? We maintain the swim center and the pool, and that’s one of our biggest responsibilities. The maintenance staff there are all certified pool operators. We have about 900,000 gallons of water to keep clean enough for people, so they work on chemically balancing the water, maintaining the pumps, filters and heaters.
Most people don’t realize it, but the bottom of the dive pool is below sea level. So every earthquake is felt and affects that pool. We’ve had three leaks since I’ve been here.
The pool is open from February through October. The high school swim team starts using it in February.
The pool will never pay for itself but it’s an important asset.
How many young people work for Parks & Community Services each summer? Between the pool and recreation programs, we hire about 150 kids every summer. Our lifeguards are fully trained so they are considered first responders. They also help the maintenance guys with cleaning. The automatic vacuum runs all night and on the weekend; they bring in the vacuum and clean the filters.
What projects do you have coming up this month? We help with all department projects, and coming up is the Senior Center kitchen remodeling. That kitchen probably will be closed all of May.
Also, (Parks & Community Services Director) Mike Dotson, (Department Management Analyst) Vic Randall and I are working on the waterfront master plan.
What’s the goal of the waterfront plan? The goal is to come up with a plan! (laughing)
We’ve had four or five community meetings, a couple of workshops and everyone agreed and the Council agreed to move forward. We’ve had pre-meetings with the regulatory agencies and those have helped. I don’t want to get a plan approved by the Council that can’t be built because of requirements from other agencies.
The tough part for us is that the land has been industrial since day one. Before the train bridge was built, everything came through here on its way to Oakland. When the railroad went away, they did a little clean up, but just a little.
What do people want to see on the waterfront? One of the biggest things people want is a train walk, which would be an elevated walkway above the marsh that would follow the old railroad. That’s one of the biggest things that people want, but it’s probably the hardest thing and the most expensive thing as well.
We’d like to fill in the old Lido area so we have more green and partly to deal with sea-level rise. We would like to raise the Marina Green as well, just to the level of First Street.
It’s a big project. It would be fun to build but it’s going to be tough. We’re going to get some of it, but not all of it.
Do you ever get a chance to enjoy Benicia’s parks? I may walk my dog, but the tough thing is that when I’m walking, I’m looking at what needs to be done. I’m really never off. If I’m walking around the pool, I’m seeing what needs to be done.
What’s your favorite park? Probably Turnbull and Community Park, the ones I helped build. Me and Jim Arruda (now a city building inspector) built Turnbull Park, and the picnic tables and arbor at Community Park.
Community Park really is a great park. The X Park is up there, the dog park is up there, and there’s access to open space, access to Lake Herman. We’ve added disc golf around the edges. In a perfect world, I’d love to build five tennis courts up there.
What’s been your biggest surprise during your years here? I guess the biggest surprise is that I’m still here. I’m usually brutally honest with people and I’ve had to tone it down a little. I do my best to get along.
I’m really comfortable here. I like the people I deal with. I like what I’m doing. There isn’t a better team in the city. There isn’t anything we can’t do.
As Superintendent of Parks and Building Maintenance for Benicia, Rick Knight and his staff maintain:
- 28 parks that cover 171 improved acres
- Fields at Benicia High and Benicia Middle schools (20 acres)
- Five landscape and lighting districts (25 acres)
- Lake Herman Recreational Area (577 acres)
- Two bocce ball courts
- Two tennis courts
- Five basketball courts
- 13 ballfields for soccer, softball and baseball
- 20 playgrounds
- 68+ open space access areas (2,120 acres)
- Grounds at the State Capitol
- Benicia City Cemetery
- 20 restrooms in city parks
- Lights for three ballfields: Fitzgerald Field, Community Park, Benicia Middle School
- Ninth Street boat launch ramp and restroom
- Flags at five city sites (The Fire Department takes care of its own flags)
- 35 city-owned buildings (about 227,500 square feet), including:
- 11 historic buildings (Clock Tower, City Hall, Police Department, City Gym, Commanding Officer’s Quarters, Camel Barn and others)
- James Lemos Aquatic Center (building, grounds & pool)
- Benicia Community Center
- Benicia Library
- Benicia Youth Center