Sign on the Ann Arbor Senior Center front door: “Belly dance around back.” [photo]
Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Feb. 28, 2012): Commissioners took action on several parks projects at their most recent meeting, and were briefed on others already in the works.
The largest of the action items was a $865,190 contract for road, parking, pathway and other exterior renovations at Buhr Park and Cobblestone Farm. The work will include resurfacing the entry road off of Packard, and improving the path system to allow better access within the park area, as well as a connection from Essex Street into the park. The city council later approved the project at its March 5 meeting.
Commissioners also recommended approval of a 15-foot landscaping buffer in Riverside Park, next to a proposed new DTE Energy substation that abuts the park. DTE is seeking a variance from the city code, which requires a land use buffer for any commercial site that’s adjacent to a park – without the variance, that buffer would need to be located on DTE property. The new substation, to be located in the utility company’s Ann Arbor service center at 984 Broadway, will provide more electrical power to the downtown area due to increased demand.
Also recommended for approval was a $35,200 contract for restroom renovations at the Ann Arbor Senior Center. The facility will be closed in May while the project is completed, and activities will be scheduled at other locations. When PAC chair Julie Grand said she was impressed to see that so many companies had bid on the project, parks manager Colin Smith noted that it might reflect changes related to CUB agreements.
To comply with new state legislation, last summer the city council rescinded a resolution that had previously required contractors for city projects to execute Construction Unity Board (CUB) agreements. The agreements are negotiated between local trade unions and contractors, and require that contractors abide by terms of collective bargaining agreements for the duration of the construction project.
At their Feb. 28 meeting, park commissioners were also updated on a project to make exterior improvements – primarily related to pedestrian pathways – at the Leslie Science & Nature Center. The center, located at 1831 Traver Road, was previously part of the city’s parks system but since 2007 has operated as an independent nonprofit. However, the city still owns and maintains the buildings and property. The first stage of the project will focus on making pathways to the center’s popular raptor enclosures more accessible.
Commissioners also learned that during the week of March 12, the city will begin to install a new pedestrian bridge at the end of the Argo Dam bypass. Because of the construction, the recently renovated bypass will be temporarily closed. A stoplog will be put in to stop the flow of water into the bypass – the project will likely take a couple of weeks. The path along the bypass is expected to be paved later in April, with the end in sight for the entire project by May.
Smith reported that Argo Cascades will be the new name for the bypass – a series of drop pools that eliminates the need to portage along that stretch.
During an update on the parks and recreation budget, Smith reported that due to extra funds available from the park operations budget, plans are in the works to: (1) restore mowing to a 14-day cycle – the cycle has in recent seasons been every 19 days; (2) increase seasonal staffing between April 15 and Oct. 15; and (3) hire three park rangers from May through September, to deal better with maintenance and enforcement issues in the parks.
Several items were also raised during the time set aside for communications. Smith noted that the six-year, 1.1 mill parks maintenance and capital improvements millage will be coming up for renewal this fall. Staff has already started working on the renewal process, gathering materials in preparation for a March 12 city council working session. The millage was last approved in 2006.
It was also noted that two key staff members are leaving their jobs soon. Molly Notarianni, the city’s market manager, is stepping down at the end of March after about four years on the job. The position has already been posted. And long-time Rec & Ed director Sara Aeschbach will be retiring this summer. Both were praised for their service.
At the end of the meeting, commissioner Gwen Nystuen reminded her PAC colleagues about an upcoming sustainability forum on Thursday, March 8 at 7 p.m. in the downtown Ann Arbor District Library building. It’s the third in a series of four, this one focusing on climate and energy, and is part of a broader sustainability project that began last year and includes developing sustainability goals for the city. [See Chronicle coverage of the first and second forums in the series.] A public forum on the forums is also scheduled for March 29 from 6-8 p.m. at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library building, 343 S. Fifth Ave.
A $35,200 contract for restroom renovations at the Ann Arbor Senior Center was recommended for approval by the Ann Arbor park advisory commission at its Feb. 28, 2012 meeting. If approved by the city council, the contract would be awarded to L.C. Construction, which submitted the lowest of eight acceptable bids. The facility will be closed in May while the project is completed, and activities will be scheduled at other locations.
The $35,200 includes a $32,000 base bid and a $3,200 (10%) contingency fund to cover possible change orders. Funds would come from proceeds of the park maintenance and capital improvements millage.
According to a city staff memo, the restrooms don’t meet the state’s Barrier Free Code. The center’s two existing restrooms – each …
At its Oct. 18, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor park advisory commission (PAC) received a final report from consultants regarding the Ann Arbor senior center. [.pdf of full report] At its June 24, 2011 meeting, PAC had received a staff update on the senior center, which is located at Burns Park.
The report stems from city budget talks in 2009, when 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. In response to protests from local residents, the city formed a task force to develop strategies to keep the center open.
In November 2010, the city council approved a $34,750 contract for the consulting firm Hooker …
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.
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.
Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission meeting (Sept. 21, 2010): Held this month in the studios of Community Television Network, the park advisory commission received updates on Tuesday about finances for the parks system as well as RFPs (requests for proposals) that are in various stages for Argo Dam, Huron Hills Golf Course and the Ann Arbor Senior Center.
A financial report for the most recent fiscal year, which ended June 30, included news that Ann Arbor’s two golf courses performed better than expected – though one commissioner calculated that the city still paid a $10 subsidy for each round of golf played during the year.
Later in the meeting, Colin Smith – the city’s park and recreation manager – reported that an RFP for the Huron Hills Golf Course has been issued, with a pre-bid meeting to be held on Monday, Sept. 27. Several members of the public turned up at last month’s PAC meeting to argue against the RFP, which is soliciting ideas for a possible private/public partnership at the course. No one spoke during public commentary on Tuesday.
Another RFP – this one for reconstruction of the Argo Dam headrace – has yielded two responses that are being reviewed. A recommendation will likely be brought to PAC next month, Smith reported. If approved, it would change the shape of the embankment.
And an RFP for the Ann Arbor Senior Center has nearly reached the end of the selection process. On Tuesday, commissioners unanimously voted to recommend hiring Hooker/De Jong, a Muskegon consulting firm, to develop a strategic plan for the center, at a cost of $34,570. It now goes to the city council for approval.
A council directive issued last year – asking PAC to prioritize 30 recommendations made in the Huron River and Impoundment Management Plan (HRIMP) – was raised during Tuesday’s meeting by Julie Grand, the commission’s chair. She noted that the year-end deadline for completing this task was fast approaching, and they needed to carve out some time to address it. Commissioner Tim Berla said he’d like to see the council form a river stewardship committee – that’s one of the HRIMP recommendations.
The commission also heard a report from David Barrett, a PAC member who’s been assessing the conditions of the city’s ball fields. “With a few exceptions, most are in need of help,” he told his PAC colleagues.
When The Chronicle attended last week’s meeting of the Ann Arbor Medical Marijuana Patient Collective – held at the Ann Arbor Senior Center – we were reminded that the last time we’d been to the center was in the context of its potential closing, because of city budget cuts.
Last year, the city administration identified the senior center as one facility that, if closed, could save the city roughly $150,000 – the center’s operating deficit at the time. Residents mobilized, and a task force was formed that developed recommendations for cutting costs and raising revenues.
Recommendations include hiring a consultant to develop a long-term strategic plan, paid for by a $16,949 grant from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. A request for proposals (RFP) was issued earlier this summer for that project, and responses from three companies are now being evaluated, according to Jeff Straw, parks & recreation deputy manager.
Meanwhile, several other efforts are underway, including this coming Saturday’s “Picnic in the Park” fundraiser, which runs from 1-3:30 p.m. at Burns Park, where the center is located. Last year, the event raised about $1,000 for the center.
Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission (Jan. 19, 2010): As part of a project to upgrade the athletic fields at Fuller and Olson parks, members of the city’s Park Advisory Commission approved an increase in fees to use those fields. One commissioner described the fields, which had previously been in serious disrepair, as “a thing of beauty.”
Three speakers during public commentary, all representing groups that use the fields heavily, said they didn’t have a problem with the fee hike, but hoped that the change could be phased in over three years, rather than implemented this season. The recommendation for an increase, along with changes in how the fields are used, will be forwarded to city council.
Commissioners also approved recommendations from the task forces that are working to raise revenues and cut costs for Mack Pool and the Ann Arbor Senior Center. Commissioner Tim Berla clarified that the PAC resolution was primarily an “atta boy!” for the work of the staff and task forces, and support of the direction they’re headed. The recommendations – which aim to keep those operations open – will be presented to city council at their Feb. 8 meeting.
And finally, as a bonus for readers who stick with this report until the end: One commissioner is championing an urban dog park, and has identified a potential location within the city.
At its Tuesday meeting, the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission will consider recommendations that would cut costs and raise revenue for Mack Pool and the Ann Arbor Senior Center, with the goal of keeping both operations open. If approved by PAC, the recommendations would be forwarded to city council.
Last spring, city administrator Roger Fraser proposed closing both the pool and the senior center, as part of a larger effort to address the city’s general fund budget deficit. Both entities cost more to operate than they generate in revenues, and are subsidized by the general fund.
Council subsequently created task forces to look at how more revenues could be raised and expenses cut from those operations. City staff held public meetings in December to present the initial recommendations from the task forces. [See Chronicle coverage: "More Options for Ann Arbor's Mack Pool" and "Task Force Tries to Save Senior Center"]
At its Tuesday meeting – which begins at 4 p.m. and includes time for public commentary – park commissioners will discuss and possibly revise those recommendations, before voting on whether to send them on to city council. The meeting is held at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. After the jump, we provide a summary of the proposals.
The sound is like heavy rain clattering on a tin roof. “It’s called twittering – yes, we know how to twitter!”
The “we” is a group of six who’ve come to the Ann Arbor Senior Center on a frigid Monday afternoon to play Mah Jongg, and they’ve graciously allowed The Chronicle to sit in on their game.
It’s a slow day at the center – typically, there might be 16 or more people here to play the traditional Chinese tile game, plus another couple dozen playing bridge – but wind and snow and perhaps the holiday weekend made for a thin turnout.
The Chronicle has covered two meetings of a city task force that’s trying to save the center – it’s slated to close on July 1, unless the task force can come up with ways to cut expenses and raise revenues to overcome a $151,687 operating shortfall.
But we hadn’t yet visited the center to see what goes on there during a typical day. So on Monday, we made the snowy trek.
The Ann Arbor Senior Center is a projected $90,355 closer to bridging a $151,687 gap between revenues and expenses, according to an update given Wednesday. At a public meeting, city staff presented preliminary recommendations of a task force that’s been working on ways to generate revenue and cut expenses at the center.
Like Mack Pool, the senior center is slated to close on July 1, 2010 as part of the budget plan for FY 2011, which was presented to the city council earlier this year. Following protests from users of those facilities, the council appointed two task forces this summer to develop strategies that could potentially prevent the closures.
Recommendations for the senior center include expanding a trip program, putting a membership fee in place and using part of a bequest to cover operating expenses in the short-term, among other ideas.
During a Q&A following staff’s presentation, several of the 40 or so people attending the meeting pressed for more information and criticized the city in general for having misplaced spending priorities. “We are not blades of grass,” one woman said. “We’re not golf balls. We are human beings, and closing this center would have a devastating impact on people and their families.”
Shucking off raincoats and shaking rain off their umbrellas as they entered, about 50 people gathered Friday afternoon at the Ann Arbor Senior Center to get an update from city staff on the center’s fate, and to give feedback on ways to keep it open.
The meeting was the first of two scheduled by a city task force convened to address a budget crunch that had prompted city staff to recommend closing the center. The next public meeting is set for Tuesday, Oct. 27 from 6:30-8:30 p.m., also at the Burns Park facility, 1320 Baldwin Ave.
Closing the center seems a less certain scenario now, based on comments from staff and task force members. The focus is on finding ways to increase revenues, Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation services manager, told the group.
“The fact that so many people came out today shows how important the senior center is,” Smith said.
Ann Arbor City Council Sunday caucus (May 17, 2009): At its Sunday night caucus, city council heard from several residents, many of them opposed to the closing of the senior center in FY 2011. They also heard from the chair of the city’s market advisory commission, expressing that body’s opposition to proposed fee increases for farmers market stall rental. Opposition to the plan to introduce parking meters in residential areas close to the downtown was also well represented.
Also related to parking, the author of a recent letter from the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, which raised the possibility of an environmental lawsuit based on the planned underground parking structure, came to caucus to respond to any questions councilmembers might have. And the developer for City Apartments, a residential and parking project approved for the First and Washington site, attended caucus to ask for an extension to the option agreement.
In the course of the evening’s conversation, council heard again the criticism from a resident that the focus on smaller budget items costing as little as $7,000 distracted from the focus on the bigger picture.
Councilmembers had no issues among themselves they wanted to discuss publicly at caucus.
After hearing more than two dozen people speak to defend three city-funded facilities facing cuts, the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission passed a resolution recommending that Mack Pool be closed earlier than proposed by city staff, and that the city use those savings to restore funding to the Leslie Science & Nature Center. PAC also is recommending a task force be formed to look at funding options for the Ann Arbor Senior Center, which the city has proposed closing permanently on July 1, 2010.
PAC will send its recommendation to city council, which in May will make the final decisions about what areas to cut in order to balance its budget.
Many of the speakers at PAC’s Tuesday afternoon meeting were passionate about the value of the places they supported, and some told poignant stories about how the Ann Arbor Senior Center, Mack Pool or Leslie Science Center touched their lives. We’ll start our report with a summary of those comments.
In CTN studios on Tuesday night, the rain was falling audibly on the roof as the city administrator for Ann Arbor, Roger Fraser, used a town hall meeting format to present to the public his recommended budget for fiscal year 2010.
It included a plan for 2011, as well as the overall economic context for the budget. The presentation was essentially the same one he’d given to city council the previous evening, with the key difference being that he fielded questions from the public, instead of city councilmembers – several of whom were also on hand.
Fraser, accompanied also by Mayor John Hieftje, responded to a flood of questions ranging from the strictly clarificational (Why is there a significant increase in the city clerk’s budget from 2010 to 2011?), to requests for Fraser to talk about what the city was doing to curb costs in specific areas (Have you considered changing the city’s health care provider?), to criticism of particular cuts (This town can’t support a senior center?).