An ambitious proposal to dip into the Jean Thomas Parks Beautification Fund hit a snag when members of the Park Board objected because they hadn’t seen the proposal.
At a special meeting on April 6, Mayor Brandon Dewey proposed that the council approve the appropriation of $50,000 of the Jean Thomas Fund with $25,000 going toward improvements at Father Ravalli Park and $25,000 going towards the cost of the recirculating water system for the splash pad being built at Lewis & Clark Park. The Fund has a total of $75,000 and has never been tapped.
Bobby Sonsteng, Parks and Recreation Director, gave a presentation on some of the potential improvements at Father Ravalli Park. Sonsteng had gone through the Park Board minutes of the last few years and compiled a list of all the issues that had been identified by the board as well as other issues that he had identified. Under the proposal, the existing swing set would be repainted, and new swings would be installed. The western fence adjacent to the basketball court would be replaced with a solid wooden fence that would be utilized as a climbing wall for small children. The wooden fence on the north boundary of the park would be updated or replaced through a partnership with the adjacent landowner. According to Sonsteng, the existing play structure at Father Ravalli Park is beyond the limits of its useful life. Parts of the structure have failed, and it no longer meets playground safety standards. The structure was moved to Father Ravalli Park from Lewis & Clark Park when Bear Mountain Playground was built. Sonsteng said new playground structures are economically priced right now. He said if the proposal is approved, further research would be done and consultation with the Park Board to determine the best structure for the site. He also suggested new maintenance-free picnic tables and new garbage receptacles. Surfaces under play equipment would be addressed as part of the renovation. Sonsteng pointed out that Father Ravalli Park has not received as much attention as Lewis & Clark Park and he hoped to remedy that.
Council member Patrick Shourd, who serves on the Park Board, said he was “slightly hesitant” to approve the funding before the Park Board had a chance to weigh in. That was echoed by Vicki Motley, another Park Board member. Motley said she thought the Park Board should review any proposal for park improvements before they come before the council.
“I think it’s kind of putting the cart before the horse,” said Motley. “I was shocked that this was on the agenda. It needs to go through the park board. I realize it’s only advisory but it kind of feels like ‘we don’t really care what you think’… I think there’s got to be better communication and the park board needs to have some say in this.”
The mayor clarified that this was only an appropriation and the Park Board would be able to make the decision on how to spend the money. “The Park Board is an advisory board and doesn’t have the authority to make appropriations… we don’t want to micromanage this project.”
“We just wanted to start the conversation,” said Sonsteng, “and get this to be a possibility. Then try to get it going and get it done as quickly as possible.”
Council member Paul Ludington clarified that it was only an appropriation and the Park Board would be able to decide how to spend the money. “Jean lived down the street from Father Ravalli Park and I think she would be very happy to see something done there. But I’m not saying what the Park Board has to do. Design it how you want, spend it how you want…”
Ludington ended up withdrawing his motion to approve the appropriation. The council voted to refer the proposal to the park board for a recommendation.
The Park Board was scheduled to meet on April 12.
Meanwhile, the Parks and Recreation Department has scheduled a public meeting on Wednesday, April 14 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the town hall to gather community input on the renovations the department is proposing for Father Ravalli Park.
Victoria Howell can be contacted at: [email protected] or 207-8793.