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Tiffin takes first swing at draft of parks plan

TIFFIN– The City of Tiffin hopes all residents will find it desirable to park it.
Rob Decker, of HBK Engineering in Iowa City, presented to the Tiffin City Council a draft master plan containing recommendations for improving the city’s eight public parks at the council’s pre-meeting work session on Wednesday, July 22.
The city hired HBK as a consultant in November 2014, at a contracted cost not to exceed $30,835, to evaluate the city’s existing parks, trails and green spaces and create a broad plan for their improvements. With Tiffin’s continued population growth comes an increasing demand for infrastructure, including recreational areas for residents, and the council listed park enhancements among the major priorities in its 2014-2020 Capital Improvements Plan (CIP).
The CIP, approved in February, contained rough cost estimates for some of those improvements, including $100,000 to install the splash pad at City Park, $50,000 for a new concession stand and $63,000 to light the parking lot near Jasper Avenue; projects that were completed before the end of this fiscal year. Other related projects listed in the CIP for fiscal year 2016 were lights for the ball fields at City Park, additional amenities at Deerview Park and improvements to the areas around the city’s older soccer fields and ball diamonds, cost estimates for which add up to $550,000.
As the council’s discussion of its park system progressed, and information from HBK became available, the city council agreed to budget an additional $200,000, for a total of $750,000 for the listed CIP projects and additional park improvements city-wide.
“I am strongly supportive of spending the extra (money) if it gets parks closer to some of our neighborhoods that are a long way from City Park and are not within walking distance. We have isolated neighborhoods that just don’t have good parks near their homes, and we need to address that,” said council member Mike Ryan in June.
The rest of the council unanimously agreed, and the entire amount was rolled into a $4.43 million annual appropriation, general obligation bond approved earlier in July.
Through the month of June, HBK continued to gather information, seeking input from the public, council members and city administration and staff in a variety of ways, on the town’s existing parks and suggestions for their future development. Conceptual maps of each park, showing potential improvements, were posted at city hall and online, and citizens were encouraged to provide feedback over the course of four weeks.
At last week’s meeting, Decker said, between 18 to 20 people formally responded during the timeframe. HBK’s written report included those comments received from the public– published anonymously– along with concept maps and recommendations for a three-phased approach to all the improvements.
The master plan for the city’s parks corresponds to Tiffin’s Comprehensive Plan, the formal document adopted in 2014 that guides the city in its long-term planning and overall development. The plan projects the city’s future population to be approximately 6,000 residents by year 2030. Based on that projection, and using a standard of .05 acres of green space per housing unit, “future growth will require the dedication of nearly 85 additional acres of park and recreational space by 2030,” the plan states.
The draft plan, which included a budgetary breakdown of all potential projects at each park, indicated it would take around $2.13 million to complete the improvements over the course of three phases. Decker said a more accurate number could be provided after the council prioritizes the projects within each phase.
“It’s highly dependent on the budget, so once that’s decided and fine-tuned, we’ll put that in the summary,” said Decker.
Decker offered a brief synopsis of the draft report, highlighting a few general suggestions generated by staff and community input– such as delaying the construction of restrooms in certain parks in order to free up funding for less expensive enhancements at other, smaller parks.
Mayor Steve Berner asked Decker to comment on that suggestion.
“How important do you feel it is to have bathrooms available, like in Deerview and Woodfield (parks)?” Berner asked.
Decker said, Public Works Director Brett Mehmen had brought up a good point regarding restroom availability, and he had agreed.
“It can kind of depend on how transient you want the population of that park to be,” said Decker.
A restroom in Woodfield Park, for example, was taken off the draft plan since it was located in the middle of a residential neighborhood, where people could return to their homes if necessary.
“If we keep the restroom in there, it might encourage people to stay longer. I think that’s a good point.” Restroom construction runs between $65,000 and $100,000, depending on design, Decker added.
Decker said portable restrooms could be installed fairly cheaply and without the related maintenance expense in order to assess whether permanent restrooms might be warranted in the future.
Decker also highlighted the placement of a proposed off-leash dog park, shown in the draft plan, to be located at City Park. Though the primary requirements for establishing a usable dog park– grading, top soil, water service, fencing and waste disposal– could cost around $39,000, more permanent amenities like pavement, a trail system, benches, a restroom and a shelter could be added later.
Council member Peggy Upton said she was concerned about adding another facility like a dog area to City Park.
“I saw more than one comment about the parking issue at City Park. It is definitely not enough parking there when those ball fields are in use,” said Upton. “Also I think it might be a better idea to have dogs away from where a lot of little kids are playing and using the splash pad all the time.”
Decker said another potential spot for a dog park would be at one end of Brown Street Park, where trails could provide connectivity.
“The benefits of that would be that you kind of have to know it’s there, but once people learn where it is, it’s going to be used a lot,” said Decker.
The council conducted only informal discussion of the information presented.
Tiffin City Administrator Doug Boldt asked members if they were generally satisfied with the proposed phases and the projects shown. Consensus was that council and city staff would review the draft plan over the next three weeks and consider how it could be tweaked before the council’s next meeting.
“The next steps would be to get the phases put in with dollar estimates, and the council can move things around to get within the $750,000 budget we’ve got,” said Berner, “then go forward with design work.”
Boldt suggested with the extra week between meetings, he and city staff could meet with Decker to refine the phases and bidding process so a final plan could be available for council’s consideration on Aug. 12.