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Gimme shelter

Parks & Rec. request to build shelter caught in scramble for funds

SOLON– A splash pad was out of the question– too expensive.
Ball diamonds would cost $25,000 each.
So with donations in hand, the Solon Parks and Recreation Commission went before the Solon City Council last week to ask for permission to spend $16,200 on a modest, open-air park shelter at the Solon Recreation and Nature Area (SRNA).
It wasn’t as easy as it might have sounded.
The city has found itself searching for cash in light of cost overruns from the last fiscal year, and the $11,000 left over in the parks and recreation budget– which the commission members requested to use on the shelter– might end up somewhere else.
And even if city revenues pan out, some council members weren’t necessarily sold on the shelter idea, believing the need for additional ball fields was greater.
Also pending are the fate of Randall Park, closed since spring flooding, and the former varsity soccer field at the SRNA, which the city is hoping to utilize more with the school’s completion of Spartan Stadium.
It’s all up in the air right now, and could be for several months as the city continues to crunch numbers.
“I recognize the frustration coming to your faces because you work hard at planning and promoting these programs,” mayor Cami Rasmussen told the parks and recreation commissioners. “It’s not lessened or not appreciated, it’s just reality.”
It didn’t take reality too long to rear its head during the Wednesday, Aug. 7, meeting.
The parks and recreation commission was on the agenda with a departmental update and the funding request.
According to Solon Parks and Recreation coordinator Travis Young, fall soccer and flag football are set to kick off their seasons after Labor Day, 60 percent of registrants are utilizing online sign-up, and revenues for the year came in higher than anticipated.
Which led to the request for the shelter.
Last year, the parks and recreation department conducted an online survey to help rank a list of possible capital projects. Approximately 200 participants ranked six potential improvements– a splash pad, two additional ball diamonds, an open park shelter, a skate park, the lighting of the SRNA parking lot and a tree house playground structure.
The two most popular were the splash pad (a water play area with no standing water, typically featuring water nozzles spraying into the air) and the ball diamonds. The shelter ranked third.
Estimated prices (not included in the survey) came in at around $200,000 for the splash pad, $50,000 for the cost of two ball diamonds and $15,000 for the park shelter.
The parks and recreation commission had hoped to start setting aside funds for all three in the 2013-2014 Solon city budget, but all were axed in January when an adjustment in the assessed value of undeveloped land caused a drop in expected revenues.
In June 2012, Young said, the family of Brett Smith donated $3,000 toward the construction of an open park shelter at the SRNA. Coupled with $4,425 in contributions from area businesses, and the $11,000 left in the parks and recreation department budget, commission members felt the shelter was a project that could be successfully undertaken.
The open-air structure would be located north of the tennis courts, Young said, in an area where there is not a lot of shade, between two busy recreational fields.
Council members discussed the potential to trim the cost by utilizing public works staff on the project, and whether or not to allow the shelter to be reserved on weekends for family gatherings or events, then launched into the trickier subjects.
“Where do the ball fields now fall?” asked council member Ron Herdliska.
The council had been apprised of the need for field space during January budget discussions, when the parks and recreation commission was seeking to set aside funds.
Young indicated the biggest issue currently was likely a sharing arrangement for the former varsity soccer field, something he said “was a lot slower process than we’d anticipated.”
Ball diamonds are still a big need, he said, but the commission had been holding the Smith contribution for over a year. “They’d kind of like to see something happen with that donation which was specifically designated for that park shelter,” he explained.
Parks and recreation commission member Jennifer Allen told council members the city will need more space if the recreation enrollment continues.
“There’s only so much area for the commission to grow,” she said. If the city is presented with additional suitable land in the future, she suggested earmarking it for ball diamonds.
“I don’t disagree with you at all,” council member Steve Stange said. “But the reality is financially we’re a long ways from that.”
Stange noted the cost to flood-proof the Randall Park playground had been estimated at close to $100,000, and although the city hopes to access federal disaster dollars, at least one of the funds has said no.
Solon city administrator Cassandra Lippincott reported the city has not qualified for hazard mitigation monies administered through the Homeland Security Service, but the city will be considered for a separate public assistance fund.
According to Lippincott, the city already qualifies for disaster relief to repair the playground to its original state, but the city is hoping to head off future damage by installing the structures on a concrete pad with rubber matting on the surface.
“Before we add anything else, we’ve got to take care of what we have,” Stange said, noting Randall Park is heavily used. “We need to get that back online at some point.”
Stange indicated he wouldn’t support building the park shelter until the Randall Park situation had been settled, and he predicted tight financial times for the city’s budget next year as well.
Allen asked the council members to try and keep the leftover money with the parks and recreation department, even if it needed to be used to assist with Randall Park.
“Please don’t take it back,” Allen said. “We have so many needs in the park and rec. program that we can use the funds toward.”
Stange said he would love to keep all the department budgets intact. “But we also have bills that need to be paid now,” he said. “If we have to take back from departments, that’s what we have to do.”
Although no formal action was taken, mayor Rasmussen indicated the council would keep the commission up to speed as the city continued to work on the 2012-2013 fiscal deficit.