An outdated parks master plan spurred city council officials to approve in August 2016, spending on an updated version as the old plan expired in 2011. Lebanon Parks Department Director John Messenger and the parks board then implemented that vision.
Their work culminated last Wednesday night with a presentation from Cornerstone P.D.S. President Deb Schmucker at the monthly parks and recreation board meeting. Selected by the parks board from several companies, Cornerstone specializes in the design of public spaces.
“This master plan outlines so many things involved with our park system,” Messenger said. “We want to accommodate multiple generations in the community, and expand our programs to encourage more involvement.
“This plan has allowed us to collaborate with planning, engineering, city leadership and park shareholders to put our best foot forward in the future growth and development of our parks.”
Without a master plan, the parks department has been unable to request grant money from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Now that there is a plan in place, the parks department will be able to vie with other parks departments across the state for DNR, Indiana Department of Transportation or the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs grant monies.
Cities have until April 15 to turn in parks master plans to be eligible for grant money. Rough drafts were due Jan. 15.
“That’s a big pool of money to pull from, along with the parks foundation, and other opportunities,” Messenger said. “The grants will help us with a lot of funding. We also have a park fund balance that’s considerable.
“The city council and everyone else is seeing we have a beautiful parks system. It’s a definite selling point.”
Schmucker said it was “really unusual” for a city to have two parks the size of Memorial Park (40-plus acres) and Abner Longley Park (51 acres). She also said not very many people knew where the other five parks were located.
“You have 75 percent of your community that is within two miles of a community park,” Schmucker said. “That’s very fortunate for the citizens.”
The plan outlines a 5-year period of time of what the parks department, made up of seven parks, would like to accomplish. Cornerstone developed an action and priority plan on a year-by-year basis with recommendations for the parks, trails, recreation and programs, administration, and promotions and marketing.
Public input over a three-month period from December to February, in the form of several meetings and an online survey, was used to gauge residents’ preferences.
A total of 332 people participated in the online survey.
Calling the 5-year plan a “roadmap,” Messenger said many of the items would depend on funding, grants and partnerships.
An additional water feature, in the form of a splash pad, is on tap for Abner Longley Park in 2017. The anticipated $175,000 cost of the project will come from the parks department’s non-reverting fund. Renovation of Abner Longley’s tennis courts and work on the park’s drainage also top 2017’s priority list.
“The splash pad was promised to those down near Abner Longley Park as part of the package with the Seashore Waterpark,” Messenger said. “This is following through on that promise.”
At Memorial Park, officials will begin looking into the addition of restrooms by the baseball diamond, renovation of the tennis courts, upgrades to the walking path and lighting. Tennis court lighting also will be addressed, along with the addition of pickleball courts. Estimated cost of those upgrades came in at $450,000, and will come from the department’s non-reverting and general funds.
Development of soccer fields and parking at newly-named Reese Park and restoration of the Hot Pond also made the 2017 list. Cost estimates on those projects are just under $300,000 total, and will come from the general and non-reverting funds.
Many public comments gathered in the online survey asked for better communication about programs and activities held at the parks. To that end, officials intend to develop a social media and communications plan, along with a park user database. Preliminary costs were unavailable for those projects.
After just over a year of negotiations, the city took control of the former Boone County Conservation Club. A separate master plan, at a cost of $15,000, is underway to see what should be done with the 19.5-acre site complete with a 3-acre pond.