Fort Smith Board approves parks and rec budget change, parks commission member objects

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 799 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved a change to the five-year capital improvement plan (CIP) for the city’s parks and recreation department at a special meeting held prior to the board’s study session Tuesday (Feb. 25).

The changed plan adds funding to cover the city’s matching contributions to public/private partnership projects such as the Kelley Park Ballfields Turf Project, Riverfront Drive Skate and Bike Park Phase II, and soft surface trail at McClure Amphitheater. Funding was also added to the resurfacing of the basketball courts at Wilson Park, located at North Eighth and H streets.

The plan was adjusted to add $627,250 for the Kelley Park project. At its Dec. 17 meeting, the board passed an ordinance to amend the parks budget to designate $250,000 toward the installation of artificial turf at the Kelley Park Ballfields. At Jan. 21 meeting, the Board of Directors board approved a contract not to exceed $551,250 with United Turf and Track for this project. The city also paid $56,000 for design services Frontier Engineering, Inc.

City Administrator Carl Geffken told the board Nov. 26 that the city had been approached with an offer for a private/public partnership that would replace some of the grass infields at the Kelley Park baseball fields (the Church League fields) with artificial turf in order to expand the field’s use and attract tourism. Sam Sicard, president and CEO of First National Bank, and Bobby Aldridge, principal engineer with Frontier Engineering, presented a plan to the board that would have private donors contributing $250,000 to match city funds of $250,000 that would allow for the artificial turf replacement on four fields at the park.

“(These fields) used to be a place for tournaments that would bring in new dollars and keep dollars here. We lost those tournaments to competition,” Sicard said, noting that those tournaments are going to Northwest Arkansas, which has over 30 turf fields, and Conway.

The economic impact of bringing the tournaments back to Fort Smith is conservatively estimated at $1,000 a team, Aldridge said. When tournaments were active at the ballfields, the larger tournaments drew about 100 teams, he added. The four fields to be renovated also are regulation size for softball, which would allow the park to be used for softball tournaments in the fall, he said. Money generated from the tournaments would go back into the fields and would allow for the remaining fields at the park to be renovated, Aldridge said.

The private sector has raised $275,000 for the project, which has been added to the parks budget to offset the cost of the project, said Doug Reinert, director of parks & recreation.

At its Jan. 21 meeting directors also voted to sell 68.15 acres of property at Chaffee Crossing formerly designated for the controversial and defunct River Valley Sports Complex project for $210,273 to XFED Commercial Properties. These funds were also added to the parks budget to go towards the cost of the project.

Moving to the trails, $250,000 will remain on the fiscal year 2020 budget for the remaining contract amount for segment one of the Chaffee Crossing Trail System project expected to be completed in March. Segments Two and Three have been taken off the budget. Reinert said the projects are not being forgotten. There just isn’t funding available to complete either project in the next few years. Phase Two is in the design stage.

“The design of the trail system will continue, as we are currently under contract for the design of both Segment Two and Segment Three,” he said.

He also noted that per the Greenways Master Plan, the Maybranch Trail has become the number one priority for development. This trail will connect the River Park to Martin Luther King Jr. Park and Creekmore Park.

“This trail is extremely important to everyone in Fort Smith,” Reinert said.

The budget was amended to include $1.35 million for phase two of the Riverfront Drive Skate Park. The city received a commitment of up to $700,000 from the private sector for this project, and $180,000 for a non-motorized, off-road soft surface trail at McClure Amphitheater at McClure Amphitheater. The amended budget also included $300,000 for basketball court resurfacing at Wilson Park.

At the December and February Parks Commission Meetings, Rod Coleman with ERC Holdings of Fort Smith presented a plan for the trail at McClure Amphitheater. Coleman said ERC would purchase a piece of property from the city for $60,000 under the terms that the city would then use that for the proposed trail. Therefore, the city’s actual expense for the project will only be $60,000. The parks committee voted two to four against the project.

The Wilson Park project comes from suggestions from a public meeting held in 2019. At that meeting, a majority of citizens discussed the Sunday basketball league that uses the court, Reinert said.

“This is a relatively large event in which over a hundred citizens and food vendors come to the park on Sundays to participate in a league. The complete resurfacing of the basketball courts is needed, as there would be multiple sections of concrete that would have to be sawed out. Based on information provided by a local contractor, this project would cost approximately $300,000. This is allocated in FY20, as this is a priority improvement heavily endorsed by the Mayor and the citizens in our basketball community,” Reinert said in a memo on the project.

The plan also calls for $210,000 in 2020 for general improvements to the park. As a way to offset added expenses to the 2020 portion of the CIP, the $680,000 allocation spread over FY20 and FY21 for the Creekmore Park bathhouse was eliminated from the CIP. This project is put on hold until the board can discuss the scope of the project, Reinert said, noting the bathhouse needs a complete renovation rather than a remodel and that cost will be significantly greater than $680,000.

Madeline Marquette, a member of the parks and recreation committee, addressed the board and said the parks commission did not approve the changes to the CIP.

“The parks commission approved a plan in November, so what you’re looking at we’ve never seen. This is totally new to us,” Marquette said. “It’s really upsetting to the commission. Over these years, the city keeps getting more and more things. They are lovely, but they depend on the parks department to take care of them. Parks is limited on funds and staff. It is very hard to keep the city beautiful and all the parks beautiful.”

Director André Good said he was concerned that how to spend tax money on the parks had not been approved by the parks commission, noting that all taxpayers may not have the same special interest as those who are fronting money for private/public partnerships. Good did vote for the change to the CIP.

The only board member voting against the revised plan was Director Robyn Dawson, who said she also had concerns about the parks commission not having seen the changes prior to it coming before the board.

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