The Ottumwa Courier

January 11, 2013

Parks board continues to review master plan

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — The Parks Master Plan hasn’t been reviewed since it was crafted in 2006, and board members have decided to analyze every park to see where improvements can be made.

The Parks Advisory Board began reviewing the 2006 Parks Master Plan at its December meeting and dove into an in-depth discussion of Ottumwa Park.

Through the course of upcoming meetings, board members will review the city’s 16 parks, as well as the Skate Park and Bark Park.

“We’ll follow the current plan as much as possible, but it was made in 2006 and it’s now 2013,” said Parks Director Gene Rathje. “A lot of stuff has changed, so we’re reviewing it to see if we want to stick with it or consider revising it.”

At the board meeting this week, members discussed Ballingall, Bell and Caldwell parks.

Caldwell Park is an oak savanna on the west edge of town by Casey’s.

“There’s really nothing there but grass, mature oak trees and a crude parking area,” Rathje said.

The problem the department faces in any kind of renovation is that there are Native American burial grounds on the premises, said Councilman Bob Meyers.

Board members asked if there was an opportunity to erect signs that gave historical insight into the burial grounds located there, but board member Sarah Sels said that wouldn’t be a good idea.

“A lot of times they don’t want those identified,” said Sels. “Historically speaking, if they’re identified, people dig in them.”

Board president Bob Beisch also said at one point the city had considered building an observation tower in the park, though it would cost approximately $150,000.

“That would be one of the most beautiful views you could imagine,” Beisch said.

Rathje said it would be great for people to go up in a tower and see for miles, “but in the grand scheme of things, how realistic is that?”

Board member Kim Hellige, who is also the president of the Wapello County Trails Council, said the council is looking at opportunities to expand the trails in western Ottumwa.

“That could maybe at some point incorporate into the trail system,” she said of the park. “We want to get to the west end so we can link up with Brick Plant Road.”

Bell Park, a neighborhood park on Schwartz Drive, is a wet park, Rathje said, and doesn’t drain very well.

“But we have a lot more high-priority items, so it’s probably not real likely that a natural storm water management system is going to happen,” he said.

The plan also called for pedestrian walks, repairs and resurfacing of the tennis court and signage for Bell Park.

Rathje said the department would have to find $13,000 in funding for the walkways. The tennis courts were redone in fall 2008 alongside three other parks.

“Two things I think it needs are an outdoor basketball court and new playground equipment,” he said. “The playground equipment is sinking into the wet grounds, and it’s 10-15 years old.”

Rathje said every item listed for Ballingall Park — located in front of the Amtrak depot and Wapello County Historical Museum — in the 2006 plan has been completed except for restoring the fountain, as well as a smaller fountain in the shape of a lion’s head on the east side.

The department was able to secure $63,000 in funding, half from a FEMA grant, $23,000 from the Fahrney Foundation and $10,000 from the Wapello County Foundation. Renovations are scheduled to begin this year.

“When the Ballingall Park fountain is finally finished, I think it’s going to be beautiful,” Rathje said. “It will be close to what it was when it was originally built [in 1950 or 1951], with multiple spray patterns and color changes of the water.”

In the next few months, Ottumwans can expect to see these renovations begin, as well as the installation of retractable side curtains on the Central Park stage.

The Parks Department also recently completed work on the west end of Union Park and east end of Foster Park.

“Those are where we want them to be, at least with what we can afford,” Rathje said. “But I really want to start working on making some improvements to Ottumwa Park, such as a set of handicap-accessible playground equipment one of these days.”

He said he’s thankful the board decided to review the master plan.

“We need to thoroughly, but it hasn’t been done all that much since it was made, except piecemeal here and there,” he said. “I refer to it when we start raising money for individual projects in individual parks, but what the board is doing is going through the plan A to Z, and that’s what should be done.”