The Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Department wants to delay work on a dog park and more trails at Chaffee Crossing in 2024 to fund upgrades at Creekmore Park swimming pool. At least one City Director is not happy about the request.
Department officials presented a proposed Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) to the Fort Smith Board of Directors Tuesday (Oct. 17).
“The most impactful change since the CIP update presented to the Board of Directors in August is the additional funding necessary for the Creekmore Park Pool Upgrades. We have since received rough pricing based on the schematic drawings for the bathhouse and diving well enclosure. This project is estimated to cost $6.6 million,” said Sara Deuster, interim director of Parks and Recreation, in a memo on the subject. “However, I am actively working with Crafton Tull and Beshears Construction to identify design modifications and material substitutions to reduce this cost.”
The projects in the parks department’s five-year CIP are funded by the one-eighth cent sales tax dedicated for parks capital projects. This tax was voted on and approved by citizens in 2012 for a period of 10 years and extended for another eight years in May 2022. It is set to expire Sept. 30, 2030.
Deuster told the board it is necessary to delay planned projects to allocate adequate funding to complete Creekmore Park Pool upgrades because delaying the pool project any longer will increase costs significantly.
“It was determined delaying new development at Chaffee Crossing would have the least impact to our parks system,” she said, noting that the project is on hold in order to assess flooding concerns.
Also, there is an existing dog park at Chaffee Crossing, which opened to the public in fall 2020. ERC Holdings of Fort Smith constructed the 1.24 acre dog park at 8204 Veterans Ave in Chaffee Crossing at a cost of approximately $100,000. In August 2021, the board of directors passed a resolution accepting the donation of the park.The land donated was approximately 1.39 acres.
In February 2022, details of a collaborative effort by the city of Fort Smith, Sebastian County and the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Area (FCRA) for a new dog park on 24 acres of Fort Chaffee Boulevard and Taylor Avenue adjacent to the Sebastian County soccer field were released. The dog park was slated to open that summer. The dog park was to replace the former park at the Fort Smith airport. Land for the project was to be partially donated by FCRA and Sebastian County. Once completed, the park is to be owned and maintained by the city. The total cost of this project had been estimated at $817,112.
The city also has a dog park off Old Greenwood Road, Deuster said. The Utilities Department maintains this parcel, as there is a water tower, reservoir and pump station located on site. Fencing needs to be installed in order to protect existing utilities structures from citizen access, information on the park states. The fenced area will be approximately five (5) acres, with a designated small and large dog area. Covered seating and an accessible water fountain will also be included in this project. Plans for this project are complete and ready to advertise for bids. Total cost of this project is $531,900, the CIP states.
“Therefore, it is recommended to delay the dog park at Chaffee Crossing and continue with development of a centrally located dog park,” she said.
The other item suggested to be delayed is segment two of the Chaffee Crossing Trail System.
“Because there is a network of trails already established throughout Chaffee Crossing, delaying this project will not have as great of an impact as forgoing infrastructure maintenance,” Deuster said. “It is recommended to prioritize addressing the decades old, deteriorating infrastructure throughout our parks system to best align our department to be able to support and sustain future growth.”
She said the collaborative trail project with the Arkansas College of Health Education and other private entities is not impacted by these above recommendations, and funding for the City’s contribution towards this trail project remains allocated for FY23.
FCRA announced Oct 12 that in celebration of ArcBest’s 100th anniversary this year, the Fort Smith-based shipping and logistics company is partnering with FCRA and ACHE to build new trails in Chaffee Crossing. The private-public partnership of new trails will include two lighted segments totaling approximately two miles that will connect the ArcBest headquarters to Celebration Garden and Wellness Park on the ACHE campus and the Chaffee Crossing Historic and Entertainment District, according to the FCRA. The new trails will ultimately join bike lanes to be constructed by Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) along the new Highway 255 corridor (Frontier Road) to create a continuous loop.
Deuster said another notable change to the CIP is the Creekmore Park Picnic and Recreation Area.
“This line-item was previously for the construction of a youth basketball court,” she said in the memo. “Following board discussion and further evaluation, Parks Staff directed the engineer to modify the design and scope of work to make this area function as a patio area.”
A revised price was negotiated with Steve Beam Construction, Inc. based on these changes, she said. The original estimate for construction of a youth basketball court where the former wading pool was to the west of the train depot was $172,804.90. The revised project will include construction of a picnic and patio area, sidewalk improvements, and installation of two sets of cornhole boards. Additional work, to be included within the playground contract, will be the installation of artificial turf berms with integrated seating around the new train-themed toddler play area.
“This revision will both preserve all existing trees and utilize the natural tree canopy to provide shade to the area. This option will also create additional greenspace and provide a picnic area for school field trips, youth groups, daycares, and family gatherings at a central location to the play areas,” the CIP said.
The Parks Commission made a unanimous recommendation in support of this revised project instead of the basketball court project at their Sept. 13 meeting. The revised contract amount is $113,193.72. An alternative location for a basketball court is being evaluated, the CIP states.
Director Lavon Morton voiced concern about taking money away from Chaffee Crossing trails and the cost of the bathhouse at the Creekmore Park Swimming Pool.
“I find it hard to believe that bathrooms, showers and changing areas can cost $4 million (which is the estimated cost of that part of the project),” Morton said. “We need to look at that. We only need what we have at Parrot Island, and I don’t believe it is that much.”
Morton suggested a joint meeting between the board of directors and the parks commission before the 2024 budget is approved. He suggested that this meeting get input from the public as well.
“I also don’t want to see us put off the trails at Chaffee Crossing,” Morton said.