Couple Gives $50,000 for Ann Arbor Park

Also: Park commission gets updates on senior center, Mack pool

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (June 21, 2011): Park commissioners heard some unusual and welcome news at their June meeting – two long-time Ann Arbor residents, Leslie and Michael Morris, are donating $50,000 to the city in support of South University Park.

Michael Morris, Leslie Morris, Colin Smith

From left: Michael Morris and Leslie Morris, who are donating $50,000 to rehab South University Park, and Colin Smith, the city's parks and recreation manager.

In brief remarks to commissioners, Leslie Morris – a former Ward 2 city councilmember – explained how she and her husband had played a role decades ago in creating the park, which is located at South University Avenue and Walnut. They hope their donation will help develop the park based on current needs of the neighborhood, she said.

Michael Morris noted that before they became involved in forming that neighborhood park, their civic engagement primarily had been limited to voting. But getting involved in that project ultimately led to much deeper engagement, culminating in the service of Leslie Morris on council. ”It’s been a rewarding time for us,” he said, “and I’m pleased we’re able to do more to continue the life of that park.”

Later in the meeting, commissioners got updates on the Ann Arbor senior center and Mack pool. Both facilities rely on general fund support and had been at risk of closing, when city officials were looking to cut costs in 2009. Residents rallied, and the city formed two task forces to develop strategies – both for raising revenues and cutting expenses – to keep both facilities open.

The reports given at PAC’s June 21 meeting were updates for the first fiscal year that these strategies took effect. Neither facility completely hit its target budget goals, but each took steps toward closing the gap between revenues and expenses.

Commissioners also got a quarterly update on capital improvements in the park system, including plans to renovate the Island Park Greek Revival shelter and the pergola at West Park, and to replace a path at Leslie Science & Nature Center – a project that might use recycled crushed glass as a porous surface. PAC members voted to recommend approval for funding of two specific projects: renovation of locker rooms at Veterans Memorial Park, and of tennis courts at West Park.

At the end of the meeting, Steve Thorp spoke during public commentary, urging the city to give West Park a new name – Central Park West – and to possibly put a dog park there.

Gift for South University Park

One of the first items on the June 21 agenda was news of a gift to support South University Park, located at South University Avenue and Walnut. Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, introduced Leslie and Michael Morris to make some remarks about their donation.

Leslie Morris described how their family had moved to the neighborhood in 1969, when they’d been among many families with young children there – it was less expensive than the Burns Park neighborhood, and located near Angell Elementary School. But there was one clear problem: Two vacant houses, in poor condition, were a source of trouble for the neighborhood. An absentee landlord had hoped to rezone the land and redevelop it, but when the rezoning was denied, he had abandoned the property, Morris recalled.

They enlisted the help of their councilmember at the time, Bob Faber, who convinced the owner to demolish the structures and let the neighbors use the land as a park. Neighbors rose to the occasion, Morris said, and developed it themselves, digging a sandbox, putting in playground equipment and other amenities, planting flowers and taking care of maintenance like mowing and snow removal. It was heavily used, she said. In the winter, they’d borrow firehoses from the fire department and spray water for an ice rink. They raised money for the park by picking up and taking large trash items to the dump – something the city didn’t do at the time.

After about five years, they convinced the city to buy the land and add it to the parks system, she said, using funds from proceeds of a 1971 bond for parks. But over the decades, children in the families grew up and the neighborhood changed. Their own children grew up, she said, and she and her husband moved to a different part of town. The playground equipment aged and was removed, but wasn’t replaced. Housing got more expensive – university students “could always pay more,” Morris noted – and it became too costly for young families to buy homes in that area. Nothing was done at the park for years.

The park is located in a densely populated area, she said, and needs to be redeveloped to suit the needs of the people who live in the neighborhood now. They hope that the parks staff will engage the neighbors in a discussion of how to redevelop the park, and use their contribution to get things started.

Michael Morris added that when they initially moved to the neighborhood, they were just ordinary, quiet citizens – as quiet as it can be when raising four children. Their civic engagement was voting, and not much more, he said. It was their efforts years ago to organize the neighbors for that park led them to become more civically engaged – culminating in the election of Leslie Morris to the Ann Arbor city council in Ward 2. She served for six years in that role in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She had also served as a park commissioner. He recommended that others get involved in the community in whatever way they can. ”It’s been a rewarding time for us, and I’m pleased we’re able to do more to continue the life of that park.”

As they finished, Smith prompted them to tell the commission how much they are giving: $50,000. Leslie Morris said they know it will take more, but they hoped it would get things started.

PAC chair Julie Grand thanked them for both their donation and their commitment to the city’s parks. Smith described the gift as incredibly generous, and said it would go a long way toward redeveloping South University Park. It’s exciting to have people who are willing to make this kind of investment in the city’s parks, he said.

Responding to an email query, Smith later explained that the donation will be deposited into Fund 34, for parks memorials and contributions. Project codes are set up within Fund 34 for specific uses – the South University/Morris project will be established, with its use designated for South University Park.

Updates: Senior Center, Mack Pool

Commissioners got updates on two facilities that had been at risk of closing two years ago: the Ann Arbor senior center in Burns Park, and Mack pool, located inside the Ann Arbor Open School. In 2009, city officials were looking to cut costs, and said that closing the senior center would save about $150,000 annually from the city’s general fund, while Mack pool’s closing would save another $100,000. Residents rallied, and the city formed two task forces to develop strategies – both for raising revenues and cutting expenses – to keep both facilities open.

The reports heard at PAC’s June 21 meeting were updates for the first fiscal year that these strategies took effect. Neither facility hit its target budget goals, but each took steps toward closing the gap between revenues and expenses.

Updates: Senior Center

Pam Simmons, facility supervisor for the senior center, gave the report to PAC, saying that the center was struggling with some challenges but was making great progress. [For background on the senior center, see Chronicle coverage: "Shoring Up the Ann Arbor Senior Center."]

The task force recommendations had set a goal of reducing the center’s reliance on the general fund by $97,872 in fiscal 2011, which ran from July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011. That goal was to be met through a combination of raising revenue and reducing costs, she said. To date, however, they had achieved $83,806 of that goal.

Jeff Straw, Pam Simmons, Mike Anglin

From left: Deputy parks and recreation manager Jeff Straw, senior center facility supervisor Pam Simmons, and city councilmember Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

There were several areas that fell short. The center instituted membership fees, which were expected to generate $12,500 but instead brought in only $7,110. There are 324 members – their goal had been to sell 500 memberships. Individual annual memberships cost $25, or $35 per couple.

The task force had also recommended starting a travel program, Simmons said, hoping to raise $3,390 this first year. However, a request for proposals (RFP) for someone to run the program drew no responses, she said. Although it was an important goal, the city didn’t have the staff resources to pursue it. A consultant – Hooker DeJong – was hired to develop a long-term plan for the center, which will include recommendations about the travel program, Simmons said. Hooker DeJong is expected to present its full report to the city later this summer.

Rental revenue at the center has almost doubled from FY 2010 to FY 2011 – from $6,681 to $12,374. The highest percentage of rentals (43%) is from Washtenaw Community College, which holds several classes at the center, followed by 33% from celebrations – like birthday and anniversary parties – and 24% from clubs and community groups. Upgrades to the building will improve opportunities for more rentals, Simmons said, and the city is working on a brochure to promote it as a venue.

Another goal for FY 2011 was to reduce staff costs. That was accomplished by changing the center’s operating hours and employee schedules, and using more volunteers. In total, they saved $7,960 – but still short of the $12,588 goal.

The center also tried to raise an extra $3,000 in new revenue from selling more ads in its “Zest” newsletter. However, only $430 more was raised compared to the previous year.

Also falling short was the amount of revenue expected from programming. The goal was to bring in an additional $13,076, but only $5,603 more was raised than last year. The name “senior” is a challenge, Simmons said – some people might not attend programs because they don’t see themselves as seniors. The center’s programs are also competing with many other offerings in the community, she noted.

The center also didn’t see the revenue increase they’d hoped would result from changing agreements with instructors who teach there. Previously the center only received 20% of revenue from such courses. In the restructured agreements, the center gets 40-46%. They lost one of their popular instructors mid-year because of illness, Simmons said, and one yoga instructor left to teach her course elsewhere, taking her students. But now they have a new yoga instructor who focuses on seniors and people with disabilities, and the course is growing. There are opportunities for revenue increases in the future, Simmons said.

There were some areas that exceeded the amount budgeted. More donations were raised than budgeted, Simmons reported – $4,583, compared to an expected $3,500. And though the budget called for just $4,000 in savings from information technology (IT) costs, the center cut $14,844. This is due to a decrease in the number of computers and software applications they use, Simmons said.

An additional $39,000 in revenue came from four sources: (1) an $18,00 grant from the McCalla Trust; (2) $15,000 from Stonyfield Yogurt, from winning a contest in which residents voted to decide which facility would receive the Stonyfield donation; (3) a $4,000 Kiwanis grant; and (4) a large-screen TV valued at $2,500. It’s used for playing Wii games as well as for watching TV, Simmons said.

Simmons told commissioners that the city hired Hooker DeJong to develop a long-term strategic plan for the center, which it will be presented later this summer. [The city council approved a $34,750 contract for those services in November 2010. The Ann Arbor Community Foundation funded $16,949 of that amount, with the remainder coming from the city's general fund.]

The consultants are finding that some of the challenges include the center’s location – many seniors don’t live close to it, Simmons noted – and its size. However, she said they think services can expand 30-40% without overflowing the building. The building has a capacity for 96 people, but can comfortably accommodate about 50-60.

Facility improvements – new paint, resanded floors, and a new picture window in the entry, among other things – will make the building more attractive for classes, rentals and other events, Simmons said. She praised the city’s Kim Mortson for developing marketing materials, which have helped publicize events and activities at the center. But another challenge is the lack of a daily printed newspaper in Ann Arbor, Simmons said – it’s difficult for seniors to find things out in the traditional ways.

In summary, the center isn’t quite where it wanted to be at this point, but they’ve made a lot of progress, Simmons said.

Updates: Senior Center – Commissioner Discussion

Karen Levin asked about the membership fee – what was the response when it was instituted? Simmons said they did lose some people who felt their tax dollars alone should fund the center. About 50 people who were part of the former travel group left, she said, as did some social bridge players and others. But overall, the response was positive, she said.

Gwen Nystuen asked if there are any benefits to membership. Simmons reported that members get the newsletter, “Zest,” which comes out quarterly, and reduced fees on classes and other activities. One benefit was supposed to be access to a travel program, but that didn’t happen this year, she said.

Sam Offen asked about the fact that the center isn’t located on a bus line – is that a problem? That’s been an issue for many years, Simmons acknowledged. People can take a taxi, but there’s no close bus stop. The other challenge is parking – especially in the summer, when people who are not affiliated with the senior center come to Burns Park and use parking spaces in the senior center’s lot.

David Barrett asked about competition for programming – it is primarily from the YMCA? Simmons said the Y offers similar classes, as does Ann Arbor Rec & Ed and private fitness businesses. There’s also competition from other lecture series. Simmons said if this were a small community like Gregory, where she lives, then all the offerings at the center would be popular. But in Ann Arbor, there’s a variety of choices.

In light of the disappointing outcome from new programming, Simmons said they’re concentrating on increasing rentals, especially on evenings and weekends. When the consultants report their recommendations, that might include suggestions for programming, she added, which the city staff will evaluate.

In response to another question from Offen, Simmons said that the center has had a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Washtenaw Community College for the past 2-3 years, related to WCC renting space at the center. However, it’s not clear that WCC will renew the MOU this year, she said, so the city staff is looking at other options, like finding other established programs that need to rent rooms.

Barrett asked if it’s possible to give donations that are earmarked for specific things at the center. It can be handled either way, Simmons said. For example, the $100,000 bequest from James Flinn Jr., given to the center in 2007, didn’t specify a use – the center drew about $37,000 from the Flinn bequest this year for operations.

Christopher Taylor, an ex-officio PAC commissioner and city councilmember who represents Ward 3, where the center is located, asked about the center’s FY 2012 budget. Was it adjusted to reflect the results of FY 2011? Yes, Simmons said – the FY 2012 budget calls for the center to generate about $83,000.

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, said that while the center didn’t manage to totally bridge the gap between expenses and revenues, they did a good job. And because other facilities in the park system outperformed their goals, “it all balances out.”

Updates: Mack Pool

Dan McGuire, supervisor for Mack and Fuller pools, briefed commissioners on results from FY 2011 for Mack – its season runs from September through May, but is closed during the summer. [For previous Chronicle coverage, see: "Task Force Floats Ways to Save Mack Pool," "More Options for Ann Arbor's Mack Pool," and "Proposals for Mack Pool, Senior Center Approved"]

Like the senior center, Mack didn’t generate as much revenue or achieve all the savings that were budgeted for the year. The pool had been subsidized with $102,413 from the city’s general fund, and the goal was to decrease that subsidy by $46,955. Instead, the pool came in at $32,720 for the year.

The budget had called for $12,000 in energy savings, but only $1,900 were realized. A pool blanket was installed and it did reduce water heating expenses, McGuire said, but not by as much as expected – in part because the cost of energy increased. Natural gas usage dropped 16% during the year, for a savings of $1,200. Installation of LED lighting helped cut electrical costs by 8%, for a $700 annual savings.

Increased fees for master classes and season passes were expected to raise $8,375 in additional revenue, but only brought in an extra $1,267. When gathering public input, McGuire said, the task force consistently heard that fees were too low – that’s why the task force recommended that fees be raised, and those increases were approved by PAC and city council. Season pass revenue increased by 3.3% and visits were up 14%, he said. For master swim sessions, revenue increased 9.4% but participation was down 11%. McGuire attributed much of that to coaching turnover, and noted that new coaches who started using Mack during the year are still building their following.

Programming was expanded during the year, with the addition of a Saturday morning masters session, Aqua Zumba sessions offered through a contract with Fitness RX, a Sunday “fun day” on the second Sunday of each month, and Red Cross swim lessons and lifeguard lessons. They also offered a new program called Swim Fast & Fun, which offered sessions for kids interested in competitive swimming, but who aren’t quite ready for that level. The program was popular and had a waiting list, McGuire said, so they plan to offer it again. Some of the other programming – like the fitness classes – had a low participation, however. People aren’t looking at Mack for fitness training, he said, because there are so many other options in the area.

The city also retooled its agreement with the Ann Arbor Public Schools, which expanded the amount of pool time available to the city by 14 hours per week. It allows the city to hold morning public swim times on Tuesday and Thursday from 7:15 a.m. to 1 p.m., to extend its daily lap swim from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and to schedule “tot splash” hours on weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7-8:30 p.m.

Rentals brought in more revenues than expected, McGuire said – an additional $16,554, compared to a budgeted increase of $12,500. New rentals came from Swim Smart Academy and Club Wolverine for competitive youth swimmers.

Marketing was increased during the year, McGuire reported, including increased use of social media, traditional advertising and more visible signs. He also noted that Mack pool realized $11,124 in reduced information technology costs, on par with the amount budgeted.

They saw success in some areas while not hitting their goals in others, McGuire concluded – they’ll keep working at it.

Updates: Mack Pool – Commissioner Discussion

Julie Grand asked about the rental revenues – it seemed like they should have seen more from that. Jeff Straw, deputy parks and recreation manager, noted that while the pool received $8,000 from Swim Smart and $22,500 from Club Wolverine, that was offset in part because they lost about $22,000 in rental from the departure of a synchronized swimming group.

Doug Chapman asked whether the energy savings from the pool blanket and LED lights covered the cost of those items. Not yet, McGuire said. The lights cost $800 each, for a total of $12,000. The pool blanket cost about $4,000. It will take several years to recoup their costs, he said.

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, noted that the lights and blanket were paid for out of the parks millage, so it’s not included in the pool’s operating expenses. But he acknowledged that they had expected to see more energy savings, especially as a result of the pool blanket. He said they had scaled back their original projections, and he’s glad they did – it wasn’t the windfall they’d hoped for. In response to a query by Sam Offen, Smith said they’d based their estimates on information from the pool blanket manufacturer and the city’s energy office.

Tim Berla asked about Mack pool’s cost to the general fund – how did they end the year? Straw said that the roughly $102,000 subsidy from the general fund had been reduced to about $75,000 for FY 2011. They’re budgeting a $70,000 subsidy for the pool in FY 2012.

Smith noted that this is the first year they’ve tried new programs and adjusted the schedules, and it wasn’t realistic to expect everything to succeed. Staff will make adjustments, he said. “It’s a work in progress every year, that’s for sure.” They’re working with Kim Mortson of the city’s communications staff to increase their marketing, including on social media sites like Facebook, he said. Mortson is also developing core lists of contacts to do targeted promotions, and they expect to see results from that in the coming year.

Mike Anglin, an ex-officio PAC member who represents Ward 5 on city council, asked about the relationship with AAPS. Cost-sharing was adjusted based on the percentage of time the city uses the pool, Smith said, adding that it’s going well from an operational perspective.

Parks Capital Projects

Amy Kuras, the city’s park planner, gave a quarterly update of capital projects that are completed or in the works. Later in the meeting, commissioners voted to recommend awarding contracts for two projects: locker room renovations at Veterans Memorial Park, and upgrades to the West Park tennis courts.

Parks Capital Projects: Quarterly Update

Kuras gave brief descriptions of work being done in more than a dozen of the city’s parks. Highlights include:

  • Renovations are completed or nearly complete at the Buhr Park ice arena, which was repainted, and for upgrades of the Veterans Memorial Park tennis courts. Barrier-free access improvements were also made at Veterans Memorial, and a shade structure is being built there with solar panel on it – a project that’s being paid in large part through the city’s energy office. Upgrades to the locker rooms are also in the works. Among other things, they’ll be adding rubberized flooring to make it easier for ice skaters and hockey players to use the rooms. [Commissioners recommended approval of that project later in their meeting.]
  • The Chapin Street house on property adjacent to West Park has been torn down to improve visibility into the park, increasing the sense of openness as well as safety, Kuras said. Construction will start later this summer on tennis court upgrades at West Park. [Commissioners recommended approval of that project later in their meeting.]
  • A walkway is being built in Wellington Park, between Miller and Dexter-Ann Arbor roads, in conjunction with street repair work in that area.
  • Playground equipment is being replaced at Beckley Park off of Pontiac Trail, and a path to Argo is being rebuilt. A trail next to Beckley, by the Fairview cemetery, is being widened. Also, the city is installing a bocci ball court at Beckley Park, at the request of neighbors.
  • At Winewood Thaler Park, parks staff will be clearing invasive plants from a dense wooded area there. They’ll also relocate the playground to a more central spot within the park, and renovate the basketball courts and asphalt walkways.
  • Access stairs will be built into Hunt Park, off of Daniel Street – it’s on the east side of the park, near the Project Grow gardens. They’ll likely put that project out to bid soon, Kuras said.
  • Repairs are planned at the Island Park Greek Revival shelter and historic bridge. An architect has been hired to do a structural evaluation – damage from water and insects is a problem, so any reconstruction will likely be done with more durable materials, Kuras said. As it moves forward, the project will need approval from the historic district commission.
  • The pergola at West Park, off of Miller, is also in need of repair. They’ll be getting a structural evaluation of that as well.
  • The raptor center trail at Leslie Science & Nature Center will be replaced, and the city is looking at possible use of porous material for that project, Kuras said – possibly made of recycled glass. It’s possible that the city’s Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) could provide the recycled glass for this project – if not, they’ll use a different porous material, she said.
  • Upgrades are planned for the entry and parking lots at Buhr and Riverside parks. At Riverside, it’s possible they’ll relocate the parking lot because of problems with flooding.
  • Improvements at the Gallup Park boat launch and canoe livery are in the works. The city has applied for state grants to fund this project, and the scope of the improvements will depend in part on whether those grant funds are awarded. [For details, see Chronicle coverage: "PAC Supports Grants for Skatepark, Gallup"]

Parks Capital Projects: Quarterly Update – Commissioner Discussion

Gwen Nystuen asked whether porous materials are being used for all projects. Kuras replied that it adds significantly to the cost, and in some cases the same environmental goals can be achieved in other ways – by using bioswales on the site, for example. They evaluate each project and consider porous materials where it makes sense, she said. Maintenance costs are also a factor, she said, because porous surfaces must be vacuumed to remove particulates.

Swirl concentrator after excavation

Chronicle file photo from April 2011 of damaged swirl concentrator pieces at the northwest section of West Park after excavation from underground.

If they use porous materials at the Leslie Science site, Sam Offen suggested they include some kind of signs to explain how the porous surface works and why it’s valuable to take that approach. Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, noted that it might be possible to pay for those projects out of the city’s stormwater fund.

David Barrett asked for an update on the swirl concentrators at West Park, which had collapsed earlier this year. [At PAC's February 2011 meeting, commissioners got a report from Craig Hupy, head of systems planning for the city, who described the "catastrophic failure" of at least one of the devices, an partial failure of others. Eight had been installed underground as part of broad stormwater management system at the park.]

Kuras said the city hired an engineering firm to evaluate the situation, and to determine a fix. That process is still underway, but she hoped the work could be completed during the current construction season.

Parks Capital Projects: Contracts for Locker Rooms, Tennis Courts

PAC considered two resolutions related to capital projects at its June 21 meeting. Commissioners were asked to recommend approval of a $131,670 contract with Construction Solutions Inc. to renovate locker rooms at Veterans Memorial Park Pool and Ice Arena. The contract includes $119,700 for the work, plus a 10% ($11,970) contingency. It was the lowest of four bids submitted for the work.

According to a staff memo, the locker rooms get heavy use and were last renovated 20 years ago. Renovations would include installation of barrier-free shower stalls, benches and toilet partitions, rubberized flooring, energy efficient light fixtures, new windows and an upgraded ventilation system. The project would be paid for from the approved FY 2011 proceeds of the park maintenance and capital improvements millage.

Sam Offen asked where the company is located, and was told that it’s an Ann Arbor firm.

Outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend approval of the contract with Construction Solutions Inc. The recommendation will be forwarded to the city council for final approval.

A separate resolution recommended approval of a $182,964.60 contract with ABC Paving Co. for the renovation of West Park tennis courts, which were built in the 1970s.

Just west of the tennis courts in West Park lies this shuffleboard court in need of a resurfacing.

Chronicle file photo from September 2008, when major improvements to West Park were only under discussion. Just west of the tennis courts in West Park lies this shuffleboard court in need of a resurfacing. (Image links to September 2008 article.)

The contract includes a 10% ($16,633) contingency. It was the only bid received for the project, but park staff said it’s in line with other tennis court renovations the city has completed. The company is based in the Detroit area.

The project will include replacing the asphalt, fencing, retaining wall, shuffle board court, and entry walk, as well as repairing a second existing retaining wall. The configuration of the courts will remain unchanged. The project would be paid for from the approved FY 2011 proceeds of the park maintenance and capital improvements millage.

Offen wondered why there was only one bid. Kuras said she didn’t know, but guessed that it might be because the project is more complicated due to the retaining walls.

Outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend approval of the contract with ABC Paving. The recommendation will be forwarded to the city council for final approval.

Communications: Parks Manager Report, City Council

Colin Smith, who leads the city’s parks and recreation department, briefed commissioners on several items. He reported that the June 19 re-opening of West Park was a success, with about 500 people passing through during the day.

Smith reported that he and park planner Amy Kuras would be meeting later that week with representatives from the state Dept. of Natural Resources on a site visit related to the city’s DNR grant applications. Those include applications for the skatepark and Gallup Canoe liveries, which were approved by the city council at its March 21, 2011 meeting – the council revised the priority ranking given by the city so that the skatepark was put ahead of the Gallup Canoe liveries.

In reporting on parks operations, Smith said the spring hadn’t been kind. The wet weather has caused revenues to be significantly lower than budgeted, but expenses are also down nearly an equivalent amount, he said. In April, there were only two days in a row when it didn’t rain, he noted, and May was a similarly rainy month. At the canoe liveries, for example, it’s only been in the past week or so that they could offer river trips – the water levels have been too high. Pools are doing pretty well, he said, and the golf courses will come in as originally budgeted. PAC will get a budget update in July.

Gwen Nystuen asked for updates on the pathways being built along Washtenaw Avenue and on work at Argo Dam. [The city council approved a $1.17 million project to build a bypass channel in the Argo dam headrace and add whitewater features. See Chronicle coverage: "PAC Recommends Argo Dam Bypass"] Smith said the Washtenaw Avenue work isn’t a city parks project, so he couldn’t provide information on that. Regarding Argo, the city has submitted a permit application to the state and is awaiting a response. It’s a very lengthy review process, but they’re in the final stage, he said. While they don’t yet have a permit to move earth, they’ll continue to do work on removing dead vegetation and pumping water out of the headrace.

Christopher Taylor, a Ward 3 city councilmember and ex-officio member of PAC, reported that the city council had passed the FY 2012 budget at the end of May, and that it had included the $90,000 requested by PAC for additional mowing in high-use areas.

Mike Anglin, who represents Ward 5 on city council and is another ex-officio PAC member, asked about negotiations with Veterans Administration hospital – is parks staff involved in that? Smith clarified that Anglin was referring to the VA’s interest in generating hydroelectricity from the city’s dams. [See Chronicle coverage: "Hydropower at Argo Dam?"]

The issue was previously raised at PAC’s October 2010 meeting. From Chronicle coverage:

[PAC commissioner David] Barrett mentioned a hydro feasibility study that the Veterans Administration hospital in Ann Arbor had recently conducted, looking at possible electricity generation from the dams along the Huron River. That possibility is still in play, he said, and his understanding is that the VA is serious. The city obviously can’t make its decision based on that, he said, but it was something to keep in mind.

Molly Wade, the city’s water treatment services manager, said the VA has shared its report with city staff – the study looked specifically at Argo and Geddes dams. It shows a shorter payback period for Geddes compared to Argo, she said, adding that the city has no idea how the VA intends to proceed.

Barrett said his understanding is that the VA is looking at those dams as a package, to fulfill their federal green energy credit requirements. If they were to assume full or partial responsibility for those dams, he said, that would alleviate some costs for the city. Wade stated that the city hasn’t yet had those talks with the VA.

At the June 21 meeting, Smith reported that conversations are ongoing. If any agreement is reached, he said, there would almost certainly be some kind of cost-sharing arrangement for maintenance, at the least.

Public Commentary

Steve Thorp was the only person to address commissioners during public commentary. He thanked the city for the renovations at West Park and for the grand re-opening celebration there on Father’s Day. Thorp noted that the park is around 100 years old – it was once a farm. It’s near Allen Creek, near the place where the first settler cabins were located. The park’s eastern boundary is also the downtown boundary.

Thorp said that he and Bob Dascola would like to offer “Central Park West” as the new name for the park. Based on an informal survey of friends and neighbors, there’s support for that idea, he said. The name offers an association with one of the most beautiful and famous urban parks in the world. He noted the park’s “Olmsteadean vistas” and forested places, broad play areas, curvilinear path system. Thorp said he’s already spoken to city council about this idea, and plans to talk to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the downtown area citizens advisory group too.

Secondly, Thorp said he’d heard rumors about having a more centrally located dog park. He suggested putting it in West Park, perhaps as a dual use with the baseball field during the off season – that section of the park is already partially fenced. City staff have told him that people don’t pick up their dog’s poop, he said, but there are ways to deal with that. He said he’s putting the idea out there for further discussion, ”over a beer or during a meeting or whatever.”

Present: David Barrett, Doug Chapman, Tim Berla, Tim Doyle, Julie Grand, Karen Levin, Sam Offen, Gwen Nystuen, councilmember Mike Anglin (ex-officio), councilmember Christopher Taylor (ex-officio). Also Colin Smith, city parks manager.

Absent: John Lawter

Next meeting: PAC’s meeting on Tuesday, July 19, 2011 begins at 4 p.m. in the city hall second-floor council chambers, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

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  1. By Rod Johnson
    June 27, 2011 at 5:26 pm | permalink

    I know this came up in the other thread, but I want to reiterate: changing the name of West Park, especially to something as derivative, pretentious and unimaginative as “Central Park West,” is a bad idea.

  2. By Barbara Levin Bergman
    June 29, 2011 at 9:33 am | permalink

    Thank you, Leslie and Michael for your generous gift to my little park on South University. I was so sad when the park was de commissioned and will be so happy to see it restored for use by my neighbors and myself.

    I cannot tell you how many ice cream cones and cups of coffee Reuben and I shared in the park and now the place of my lovely memories will again be an inviting place for all of us to enjoy.