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Commission supports hiring consultant for parks overhaul

By Bryan Richardson

City commissioners and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board support hiring a consultant to develop the department’s strategic plan as a guide for a future bond issue project.

No action was taken at the work session Tuesday, but officials provided their thoughts on the situation.

Parks director Eddie Eastes said the 1992 and 1999 strategic plans have certain aspects that are still relevant, but the total plan is not.

He said the city needs a new plan to guide the department through the next 10 to 15 years.

“Those plans were really great to get us to where realistically we’re at today,” he said. “Have they lived their lives? I believe they have.”

Mayor John Matta said the goal is having a project ready for presentation to the public in 2018 when the quarter-cent sales tax increase that’s funding improvements to pools and Sunset Zoo expires.

“We can sell it to the community from the standpoint that we did one thing, we completed it, we paid it off, now we’re ready to do something else,” he said.

Jason Hilgers, deputy city manager, said he recognizes that four years might seem way too long for some, but developing a $25-$35 million project is a huge task.

“It is going to be difficult to get this to a point where we can the community to support it as a project in light of everything else we’re trying to finance,” he said.

A local resident group had hired its own consultant, Sport Facility Advisory, while pushing for upgrades to the city’s sports facilities through what’s been called the “Fieldhouse Project.”

In the group’s proposed $54 million project, Anneberg Park would be used for baseball/softball fields, CiCo Park would be the location of an indoor facility and City Park would be used for pool and tennis.

Advisory board member Ed Klimek said he would encourage the Fieldhouse group to continue pursuing its project as a private facility if there’s a backing for it.

“Look at the makeup of this community,” he said. “It is very young. Twenty-seven is the median age. It’s growing. As far as attracting people, recreation facilities are very important.”

Advisory board chair Linda Teener said previous inactivity involving facilities has created more of a crisis.

“The Fieldhouse survey pointed out what a disaster in the making our facilities are because we haven’t put money into them,” she said.

Gail Urban, the Fieldhouse group’s chair, said she was “thrilled to pieces” by the discussion, but she wanted consideration for measuring the community’s appetite for an additional sales-tax increase.

“I don’t know whether the community is ready for an increase in sales tax to support this initiative, but they might be,” she said.

Commissioner Usha Reddi said the need for indoor facilities has been apparent even back in the 1992 strategic plan, but it hasn’t been supported in a public vote.

In 2007, voters rejected a $39.2 million bond issue for an indoor family recreation/aquatic center and other citywide recreational improvements by a 2-1 margin.

“Every time it went out on a bond and asked the public to support it, it didn’t pass,” she said. “On paper, they were putting it down, but when they had to pay for it, they weren’t all in for it.”

Eastes said the sales tax increase for pool and zoo improvements passed by voters in 2009 showed that the public is willing to support a future project.

Advisory board member Marcia Rozell said the 2007 bond issue was trying to do too many things.

“We said if we did the next one, it would be a lot more narrow,” she said.

City staff members are working on several Capital Improvement Program projects including lights for sports fields and road repairs at Anneberg Park, and tennis court reconditioning and resurfacing at City Park and CiCo Park.

Proposed projects include paving the City Park Pool parking lot in 2015, placing artificial turf on four baseball/softball infields and a soccer field at Anneberg Park in 2015, creating the Douglass Community Recreation Center with two basketball courts in 2015, and enclosing the City Park 50 meter pool in 2016.

Hilgers said those are important as the city prepares its future project for residents.

“If we sit on our hands for four years and don’t do anything, it doesn’t show this community we’re that committed to what we’re talking about,” he said.

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