The historic steam locomotive stationed at Pioneer Park, which once faced a questionable fate, will remain a part of Mesa’s urban core after a yearlong makeover.

The city will begin major improvements to the downtown park next week, beginning with the renovation and restoration of Southern Pacific Engine 2355, which has been in Mesa for almost 60 years.

The first task at hand is removing asbestos and lead paint from the train, followed by other cosmetic renovations and some structural repairs. The final product will include an elevated walkway that allows park-goers to access the train’s cab, which will include interactive buttons and other features, according to Save Our Train Committee Chairman Jim Ruiz.

The city threatened to get rid of the locomotive in 2008, sparking community outcry. The Save Our Train Committee formed to lobby the city to keep the steam-engine giant at the park.

“It’s been a long ride,” Ruiz said.

Train fenced off for 24 years

The train has been fenced in since 1993, but it was once a playground to Mesa children, like Ruiz. He grew up down the street from Pioneer Park and spent his youth playing hide-and-seek and make-believe games pretending to be a train conductor — “you know how a child’s imagination is,” he said.

When he got a little bit older, he’d play basketball on the adjacent courts and would crawl atop the train to hide from cops when he stayed out past curfew, he said.

“It’s just a lot of good memories,” Ruiz said.

His group convinced the city to keep the locomotive at Pioneer Park, but they were unsuccessful in their mission to relocate it to the Main Street entrance of the park. Ruiz said the move would have given the train added visibility.

“We’re happy with all of that (renovation) but it was somewhat of a trade off,” Ruiz said.

Marc Heirshberg, Mesa’s director of parks, recreation and community facilities, said moving such a large item would have incurred extra costs, and could have damaged other areas in the park.

Heirshberg said he understands the committee’s concerns about the train’s visibility. But the additional park renovations will open “up that space and will show the true treasure that’s there.”

The Save Our Train Committee has raised $45,000 over the past nine years, Ruiz said. It’s already spent $11,000 restoring the bell, whistle and front and rear head lamps. The remaining funds, and other in-kind donations by local businesses, should cover the remaining restoration, he said.

But his group is still collecting money through its website, because “there’s always something we can do to make the train better,” he said.

$8 million in park upgrades

To see a full-size version of the renderings, click here.

Pioneer Park will be closed from mid-May until November for other enhancements, including a new water plaza, play structure, elevated walkways, landscaping additional plazas and new lighting.

The total city-fronted cost is expected to come in around $8 million. The money comes from a 2012 voter-approved bond.

Heirshberg said he expects people to be surprised when they see the park’s transformation.

“That’s what we hope to do through all of these park projects. … We try to add some unique elements, unique play features, and really try to give people something you don’t see every day at a community park. We hope Pioneer Park continues that trend,” he said.


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