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Parks committee accounts for $100K, adjourns for the summer

A special committee formed to oversee $100,000 in capital improvements to Millennium Park in Danville has finished meeting for now. But it plans to pick up where it left off later this year, when a parks master plan is completed.

The Parks & Recreation ad hoc committee spent its final meeting of the current fiscal year making sure they had accounted for where the $100,000 went; discussing the need for bathroom improvements at the park; and debating how to best take advantage of sports tourism with the baseball and softball complexes at Millennium Park.

The committee was originally created in the 1990s when Millennium Park was first being built. It was brought out of hibernation in May of 2016 in order to manage the $100,000 — $50,000 apiece from Danville and Boyle County — allocated for improving the large park’s facilities; and to improve communication between the city, county and Parks and Recreation agency on long-term planning issues.

Much of the $100,000 went to construction of a new softball field and a new basketball court at the park. Officials said $20,000 is being held over to the next fiscal year that they had planned on using to add a volleyball court. When quotes came in for the sand needed, the price was going to be “dramatically” more than what had been budgeted, Boyle County Treasurer Mary Conley said.

“Sand is incredibly expensive right now,” Judge-Executive Harold McKinney said.

After accounting for the $20,000, and once all the straggling bills for the improvements are paid, Conley said there will be around $1,000 left over. The committee voted unanimously Monday to roll the $20,000 and whatever is left after the bills are paid into the next fiscal year, without appropriating it to anything specific.

In the coming fiscal year, the city and county have again agreed to provide $50,000 apiece for capital improvements; and both also are budgeting $25,000 for paving due to the current low price of asphalt. When combined with the funds held from this year, that could mean there would be about $171,000 available to spend on Millennium Park in 2017-18.

The ad hoc committee voted to suspend its monthly meetings for July and August, and reconvene in September, when some results from a master park plan being paid for by the city will hopefully be available to guide further decisions.

Bathrooms

City and county officials were adamant at Monday’s meeting that something be done to improve the condition of Millennium Park’s bathrooms. The topic has repeatedly come up at ad hoc committee meetings, as elected officials bring complaints they hear from residents.

There are plans to make improvements to the restrooms in the next fiscal year, but that work cannot legally start until the fiscal year begins on July 1, Parks and Recreation Chairman Roger Ross said. And, he added, it could be best to hold off on major work while the park is in heavy use during the summer.

“Shutting down an entire complex is going to create some problems for the public, as well as for the park,” he said. “So it would be nice if we could maybe go a little bit into the year before we start completely gutting these things and starting over.”

Parks and Recreation Director John Drake said even after upgrades to the bathrooms, he thinks it could still be a “90-10” situation, with the bathrooms being clean 90 percent of the time, and not appealing 10 percent of the time. That’s because “it just takes the one parent that lets his child go in there to wreck the bathroom.”

“Some days I walk in and I’m very proud, and some days I wish that there was another solution,” Drake said. “And the only other solution is just to lock them and not use them, and then line our parking lots with porta-potties. And we don’t want to do that, aesthetically we don’t want to do that. And the community doesn’t really want to do that, either.”

Mayor Mike Perros said he wanted to know how to “capture that 10 percent.”

“If you’re in the restaurant business and you serve 10 meals and one of them is bad, that one bad meal is going to go out and tell three other people how bad that restaurant is,” he said. “We’re in the retail business here; we’re in the PR business.”

Drake said it would take an additional person working “full-time” on the weekends, monitoring and cleaning the bathrooms when large tournaments are happening at the park.

McKinney said it shouldn’t cost more than $4,000 to pay someone to work weekends in the summer at around $10 an hour. He suggested the big tournaments that are held in the park should be required to pay for the cost of having an additional restroom cleaner on duty.

“It seems to me these guys are coming in here using the park … I think they ought to supply us enough money to keep those bathrooms clean,” he said. “… I mean they need to be cleaning them all the time.”

Later in the meeting, Magistrate Jack Hendricks said the bathroom he hears the most complaints about is the women’s bathroom by the playground. He said he thinks there hasn’t been a good job done on maintenance of the bathrooms to keep them nice.

“If we can’t keep bathrooms clean, we’re in serious trouble,” he said.

McKinney said he believes the bathrooms are “a solvable issue.”

“It is solvable. I’m looking for a commitment,” Perros said. “I’m looking for John to say, ‘you know what, I’m solving this problem; this is what’s going to happen; this is when it’s going to happen; and it’s going to be 95-5 if not better.’ That’s what I want.”

“We’re going to increase the effort to make that happen,” Drake said.

“I appreciate you increasing the effort,” Perros said. “I want a commitment.”

Drake said he feels like a “spotlight” is being put on restrooms when there are many other things to talk about in the park. He said Parks and Recreation will “get somebody out there” to check the restrooms regularly.

“It’s just there’s a lot of great things going on out there to focus on these restrooms,” he said.

“That’s fine for you to say, but when you’re in my position, I hear ‘restrooms,’” Perros said. “So I think the challenge, John, is to address that and focus on that issue and make a commitment to this board that that’s going to be taken care of.”

“I’ll talk to my park board about it and we’ll move in that direction,” Drake said.

Ross said Parks and Recreation would “make the commitment” to “cleanliness” that Perros was asking for.

Sports tourism

The bathroom conversation led to a broader discussion about sports tourism and the potential costs and benefits of bringing big tournaments to Millennium Park’s baseball and softball complexes.

“I think the bathrooms are a good example of issues that we have in general,” said Jennifer Kirchner, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I guess I’m thinking that you need to zoom up a little bit and think that right now, occasionally we’re doing tournaments and sometimes we’re not and we’re trying to be multiple things. I don’t think we have to decide between a park for our kids and a park for tourism. I think it’s a fantastic resource that it’s a ‘both-and.’

“But I think we need to do a better job of talking about how that works. I spent a couple hours with the hotel managers over the past few months and they are not happy with how sports tourism is going — they actually say it’s costing them money. It is not helping their business because tournaments that are coming in are canceling because of lack of participation.”

Kirchner said area hotels have had teams and groups call and reserve a block of rooms, sometimes as many as 30, but then call and cancel when the tournament is canceled. The hotels could have sold those rooms at a normal rate if they hadn’t already been reserved, but they are forced to sell the rooms at discounted rates or not at all after cancelations, Kirchner explained.

The CVB is researching how to improve sports tourism and wants to work with Parks and Recreation on that, even to the extent of providing some funding, Kirchner said.

Last year, the CVB gave Parks and Recreation $1,500, she said.

“We’d be happy to go above and beyond if we understood what the tournaments were and how it was benefiting the hotels,” she said. “That’s what I’m saying — making a plan going forward about a better symbiotic relationship, because I think it’s lacking. I’ll be the first to say  we should do more and we can do more.”

Kirchner and Parks and Recreation staff plan to work together on the issue during the two months when the ad hoc committee isn’t meeting.