Parks & Rec Commission Talks Budget Cuts and Park Improvements

Tuesday, January 16, 2018, 7:18 am
By: 
Jessy Gregg

Photos of White Park, Bailey Park, Hannah Community Center (as shown below), and the Hannah pool courtesy City of East Lansing.

At its most recent meeting on January 8, East Lansing’s Parks & Recreation Advisory Commission discussed strategies for communicating the Commission’s budget priorities with the City Council in light of the budget-cutting discussions taking place. Members also got an update from Department of Parks, Recreation & Arts Director, Tim McCaffery, about ongoing parks projects around East Lansing, including projects upcoming at White Park and Bailey Park.

Kathleen Miller, the Recreation and Youth Program Coordinator for East Lansing Parks & Rec, also gave a lengthy presentation about the department’s activities. She highlighted the variety of offerings coming from her department, including things like group fitness classes, art classes (including painting and pottery for adults and children), private personal training and fitness room orientation for users of the fitness facilities, and summer camps with themes like Zombie Survival and Lego Engineering.

East Lansing Parks & Rec also partners with Studio de Danse and All-of-us Express Children’s Theater to offer classes and performance experience to area children.

According to Miller’s presentation, Parks & Rec is close to breaking even on its programming, with the cost of programs which lose money being offset by programs that bring in more than they make.

McCaffery pointed out that what isn’t covered by program participant costs is the cost of the Hannah Community Center building and facility staff. A majority of Parks & Rec programs operate out of Hannah, including a community pottery studio which was displaced when the Bailey Community Center was closed, prior to redevelopment of that property.

Closing or selling the Hannah Community Center (above) is one of the possibilities that City Council is considering as they attempt to cut millions of dollars out of the City budget. According to a recent hand-out from the City on possible budget cuts, closing Hannah would save about a million dollars per year.

At the meeting, the Commission was told that the department now nets about $16,000 per year from offering special-event parking during MSU football games.

McCaffery also updated the volunteer board on the status of two park improvements which are being planned for East Lansing. In the first case, the City of East Lansing has received funding from the Ingham County Trails and Park millage to extend the pathway which currently ends at the small lake in White Park (below). The new trail extension will cut through the woods behind Whitehills Elementary School and end near the intersection of Lake Lansing Road and Towar Road.

This project is also being funded by a recently-approve Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Trust Fund Grant. Construction is expected to begin in 2019.

As for the second park improvement in planning stages, Parks & Rec staff have been meeting with the Bailey Community Association to get feedback on improvements to Bailey Park (below). Improvements would be made using funds from the Capital Area Housing Partnership and a from Community Development Block Grant.

Parks & Rec staff are also planning to apply for a DNR Trust Fund Grant which would bring the total cost of park improvements—including a pergola, a new playground structure (in addition to the existing structure), a perimeter trail, and berm landscaping—to $240,000 if the application is accepted.

As the meeting wound down, Commissioners discussed their hopes regarding East Lansing’s budget process.

Chairperson Doug Beaudoin suggested sending a letter to City Council emphasizing the quality- of-life that a strong Parks & Rec program creates in the community.

Vice-Chair Pam Weil suggested that community members might be willing to help out with voluntary donations to support services they valued, like the Hannah Community Center swimming pool. “I’d give a hundred dollars. I learned to swim in that pool,” she commented.

It was also noted that, in 2016, the Commission had recommended that Council place a Parks & Rec bond on the ballot, proportionate to the bond from 1996 that was ending, to be used for maintenance of and improvement of parks. Council declined at the time, and the Commission agreed that it would be best to wait until after the citizen engagement meetings, the second of which is scheduled for this Thursday, before revisiting the bond issue with the City Council.

East Lansing’s Parks & Recreation Advisory Commission currently has a vacancy. Interested citizens can apply for the voluntary position.

 

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