Van Buren committee offers facility ideas

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 32 views 

Bike lanes. An indoor pool. Splash pads.

These are just a few of the ideas that were discussed Monday (June 24) as the new Van Buren Parks and Recreation Committee met with the public to get input on what the committee's needs and priorities should be in the coming months and years.

Parks and Recreation Committee Chairman Derek Riggs said he thought the meeting was successful and provided valuable insight for the committee of five.

"A lot of what we wanted to do was in line with what was mentioned last night," he said. "That was encouraging to be going in the same direction. it really confirmed that we're on the right track."

Riggs said some of the ideas discussed last night were short term ideas, while others were more long term. The most talked about item, he said, was a new indoor public pool.

"The overall consensus was wanting an indoor aquatic facility that they can use year-round, either partnering with the school district or the hospital (to operate the facility), and having a gym so it is multipurpose and that people of all ages can use."

Joe Hurst, the director of the city's planning department, said such an idea is part of the long-term strategy the city seeks through these public forums. Such an idea, he said, would likely require a tax to fund the cost of construction and possibly part of the cost of operations.

Short term projects were also a large part of the discussion last night, Hurst said, with many people sharing ideas that aligned with those previously discussed by the committee.

"A lot of the smaller term projects were splash pads in a couple of different areas of the city, new playground equipment, new bathrooms at our current park facility, a skate park and investing in our Veterans Park in downtown (Van Buren), which the city has already acquired that property."

According to Hurst, having the smaller projects on the drawing board allows the city to fund those projects as money becomes available. Once those projects are completed, focus can be put on any large projects that citizens may want, he said.

Funding for the committee and the projects to be completed were funded by a 2010 sales tax vote, according to Hurst.

"The last tax we passed was a one cent tax. Fifteen percent of that goes toward parks. We'll have the money available from the tax that we passed and we also have park budget money in the existing budget."

Even though much of the money in previous budgets has already been spent on other projects, such as renovations at the city's tennis courts and adding new softball fields at the Field of Dreams complex, Hurst said money will be available for all of the new projects the committee approves following citizen input.

And while the city does have a budget for Parks and Recreation, Hurst said he is also in the process of applying for grants to help fund many of the short term projects.

"The grant is a 50-50 matching grant that comes from the state Parks and Tourism Department and the max that they will allocate is $250,000. So essentially, we can come up with $500,000 in projects and they will (fund) half of that."

Larger projects, such as the indoor pool, may require a sales tax initiative, Hurst explained.

Riggs said the ultimate goal of the committee he chairs and the public forums is to eventually develop a master plan that focuses specifically on parks.

"I know that Joe (Hurst) and (Mayor Bob Freeman) have been working together to get a master park plan together," he said.

Hurst said whatever master plan is developed for the Van Buren Parks and Recreation Department over the next year or more has to be more than a document.

"It's an ongoing process so that the plan will never sit on a shelf and gather dust," he said. "It will be living and something we work with time and time again."

The document, Hurst said, will likely be a 10 year plan and will be presented to the city council for approval since the council will also have to pass a resolution endorsing the projects that could potentially be partially funded by the Parks and Tourism Department.

Public meetings will continue over the next few months, though Riggs said dates have not yet been set, though they will be made public.

"We are also trying to start a Facebook page to keep people updated. We're trying to keep the community connected and aware of what's going on. We're excited about it. Things are starting to finally take place."

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