The following are notes from the park board’s regular monthly meeting, published only to highlight remarks and questions about the fields expansion project that were raised during the public comment period.
Board members present: Chris Meeks, chairman, Keith Stansell, Michael Murray, Jody Brant, Kathy Pope, Paula Smalley.
Absent: Chris Bailey, Tyler Vail, Gary Isenhower, and parks liaison Patrick McClusky
Staff members present: Berkley Squires- Director of Public Services, Rusty Holley, Rec Center Superintendent, David Primus, Lee Center Director.
Audience present: 6
May meeting minutes approved unanimously.
Public comments: Ward Five resident, Lindsey Chitwood joined the board at the conference table to ask questions in person that she had submitted by email previously.
Q. Will there be a budget-focused public forum for public input into the parks projects?
A. No. Mr Meeks said the board had hosted three meetings for community input, and had included that input into new project drawings. Mr. Meeks offered to show anyone interested the drawings as they were sketched out before and after the forums. He did not offer to show a before and after budget breakdown.
Q. Can the board show the revenue and cost studies used to justify the ball fields expansion?
A. No. Mr. Squires said that numbers and projections for field use can be unreliable, because of use by independently-run youth programs, and weather. Youth leagues are operated by local boards that pay fees for field use. Programs are not expected to produce excess revenue for the city, he said. “We are a public service.”
Q. Is there a budget for the park board’s capital projects?
A. Not yet. The park board has been allotted $30 million from the bond issue of last fall and staff are in the process of developing a plan now. When a plan is finalized, it will be posted, in advance of the project, on the parks website along with a budget.
Q. I’m concerned about allocating money without a set plan that has been made public. I want to see schools remain a priority, and I’m concerned the park board isn’t justifying its use of the bond proceeds.
A. The board collectively responded that Ms Chitwood didn’t seem to want more ball fields, and questioned whether she had children and if they were involved in recreation activities (she has three). They said her concerns should be directed to the city if she didn’t like the taxpayer-funded bond deal, or the way the council has split the use of the bond deal money.
Mr. Squires added the following facts that in his mind justify expansion and use of bond deal funds:
- Since 2008 two new sports have been added to parks programs, which compete with baseball fields, lacrosse and ultimate disc. He expects more programs to be added in the next two years.
- Ballfields have aged since 1992 and need renovation. In general recreational assets need to be upgraded every 30 years;
- New fields are needed to keep families from traveling to other cities; families do not want to travel, he said. This is in reference to recreation for age groups 5-17.
Mr. Brant commented that he had tried to appease his constituents and listened to needs and wants for parks. He reiterated that Harbert will give a project update with hard costs next month at their regular meeting.
Q. Where are the current (working) budget numbers and where are the projections for increase?
A. Mr. Meeks directed her to check the city website for enrollment numbers look up other information in the “State of the Schools” meeting (a public presentation of schools and parks need to expand held Sept. 26 at the high school). Here’s the link to the PowerPoint.
After asking again for supporting data, Mr. Brant told Ms. Chitwood she should trust the expertise and intelligence of the board since they were in charge of the recreational facilities.
Q. Will the board use planning tools like the demographic study that the schools initiated and will complete by the end of August?
A. No. This study wouldn’t be relevant to parks.
Q. What are the city (park & rec) and schools’ shared resources?
A. Mr. Squires said the schools use park board-maintained tennis courts, indoor hitting facility, and gyms. New sand volleyball courts and tennis courts will be open to the public. And, a walking trail will be added near an added ballfield in West Homewood because of resident concerns about keeping trees and natural buffer space.
Q. Is there any possibility to have a year-round/indoor pool?
No. Board members agreed an indoor pool was not a priority and building one would mean having to rent it out at the expense of resident time at the pool, or by increasing cost of pool memberships.
Some numbers batted around: In summary, Mr. Squires said he anticipates a $24 million construction budget, to also include a covered maintenance shed for city equipment. He volunteered that it costs approximately $750,000 to build one lighted youth baseball field and they would refurbish existing fields where possible. He said again the board isn’t interested in cost versus revenue because they are concerned with increasing recreational services.
Q. (From a different audience member) How did the board arrive at the $35 million figure to complete the upgrades? Mr. Squires said that amount was $30 million (or $5 million less than what has been reported up to now, including in the Homewood Star. That $35 million figure possibly included the $4.25 million for the Mason Corp. property, although Mr. Squires didn’t mention this.) He said the amount was based on replacing all existing ball fields t the $750,000 amount. The figure would calculate to a total of 40 ball fields.
Two youth league presentations: The board continued its agenda with Lacrosse and Soccer reports. Baseball and football reports were submitted on paper and imaged below.
Lacrosse: (The lacrosse report was actually taken before public comments due to the director’s schedule, but is presented in agenda order here.)
Mr. Yacu said Lacrosse is gaining more competitive players; the girls leagues are growing, with the middle school girls team going undefeated this year.
Enrollment: Homewood teams picked up six high school players from BHM Magic City, of which 4 were girls.
Funds: A sale of Boston butts raised $15,000
Needs: More field space as four teams are trying to practice on one field. He said soccer and lacrosse compete for field space in the fall.
Soccer director Mason Cooks gave an update on his program.
Enrollment: Soccer has fewer players this years, with 725 enrolled compared with 766 last year, a loss he attributed to players trying other sports. Flag football, which is growing [as tackle football declines] is the sport that now competes with soccer for players, he said. The director said the enrollment rates haven’t changed in a decade. Mr. Mason gave an update on “The Academy”, a competitive soccer program with training, practices, games, and tournaments for 9,10, and 11- year-olds.
Finances and fundraising: Soccer raised $12,000 this spring to use for low-income students. The programs spent $22,000 for financial aid in the fall.
Team composition: About 20% of participants are non-residents. Homewood teams that participate. Mason presented a few positive reports of finances: soccer club outstanding collection balances are very low. Fees are paid on time. Fees and uniform costs compared to many soccer programs are very low.
- Budgets and renderings still to come: There are no architectural renderings of the West Homewood recreational facilities plans yet. Mr. Squires said he would have a basic outline of all projects in the next couple of weeks and Mr. Brant said Harbert would have solid project cost estimates in July.
- Patriot Park Pool changes: No chairs will allowed in the “beach area,” and there will be no 8-foot wall for a lap lane, as requested.
- Mr. Murray reported several event requests, of which all were approved, including the Exceptional Foundation, Creative Montessori, Homewood Witches Ride, and MotherWalk 2018.
Adjourned 7 p.m.