Ann Arbor Park Commission Checks Budget

Also: Update on Huron Hills, request for skatepark funding

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Nov. 16, 2010): Budget issues were highlighted during Tuesday’s meeting, with a quarterly financial update from staff leading to a broader discussion about how much general fund money is used to subsidize parks operations.

Judy and Manfred Schmidt

Judy and Manfred Schmidt were honored at the Nov. 16 park advisory commission for their volunteer work with the city's natural area preservation program. (Photo by the writer.)

Parks manager Colin Smith reported that the first four months of this fiscal year – from July 1 through Oct. 31 – are off to a good start. Year-to-date revenues of $918,091 represent an increase over the same period last year, when revenues were $793,783. Expenses for that period are down from $1.23 million last year to $1.07 million this year.

Commissioner Tim Berla asked for clarification about how much support parks is getting from the city’s general fund, and Smith said he’d prepare a report on that issue for PAC’s December meeting. General fund support for parks is important to track, Berla indicated, because it reflects a promise that city council made prior to passage of a parks millage in 2006: That the total general fund subsidy for parks wouldn’t be diminished as a percentage of the overall general fund. The issue also ties into which part of the city budget will be used to pay for dam maintenance.

During an update on the $1.168 million Argo Dam bypass project – which PAC had recommended at its Oct. 19 meeting, and which the city council approved on Monday – Berla said he’d like to have a discussion about how to get city funding for a skatepark as well. As a result of that request, PAC will likely have a work session in December or January that focuses more broadly on prioritizing capital projects, including a skatepark. Other potential projects mentioned by commissioner Gwen Nystuen include the Allen Creek Greenway, another dog park, and increased connectivity for the park system’s trails and pathways.

Commissioners also got an update about the two proposals submitted for Huron Hills Golf Course, and heard from parks planner Amy Kuras on the status of capital improvement projects for the parks. Kuras reported that West Park is now open to the public following an extensive renovation, and that a draft of the Parks & Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan will be distributed soon for public feedback, pending a city council vote authorizing that action.

At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, two long-time volunteers – Judy and Manfred Schmidt – were honored as volunteers of the year for the city’s natural area preservation program. The Schmidts were specifically commended for their decades-long advocacy and stewardship of the Scarlett-Mitchell Nature Area, a 25-acre park adjacent to Scarlett and Mitchell schools and Mitchell-Scarlett Woods. During his comments, Manfred Schmidt proposed a whimsical solution to the city’s budget struggles, a plan that involves the amount of buckthorn he’s cut down over the years.

Huron Hills Golf Course RFP

This fall, the city issued a request for proposals (RFP), seeking ways to “maximize the recreational golf opportunities” at Huron Hills Golf Course. The 18-hole, 116-acre golf course is located on the city’s east side and is split by Huron Parkway, with seven holes on the north and 11 holes to the south. It dates back to 1922, when it was designed by the golf architect Thomas Bendelow. In 1949, the University of Michigan deeded the lower nine holes of Huron Hills Golf Club to the city – plus $10,000 – in exchange for Felch Park. The city bought an adjacent 57.5 acres in 1951.

Huron Hills: Public Commentary

Nancy Kaplan spoke on behalf of Ann Arbor for Parkland Preservation (A2P2), saying they were against loopholes in city ordinances that allowed the dismantling of parkland. Citizens don’t expect city ordinances to be looked at for their loopholes, she said, and it is disappointing that this approach is being taken. People expect that parkland will be protected, she said, and she hopes that PAC will help in that effort. She said she knew that finances are a major consideration, and on that she had two points.

Kaplan noted that a Ward 2 city councilmember had stated that on a cash basis, Huron Hills essentially breaks even. Secondly, since fiscal 2008, revenues municipal service charges for the golf enterprise fund have increased 58% . Finally, Kaplan pointed out that A2P2 and PAC shared the same goal: “We want to protect our parkland.” They don’t want to cut trees, or construct a building or huge parking lot, or destroy the vista. She said she hoped PAC would help them keep Huron Hills “public, open and free for all of us to enjoy.”

Huron Hills: Staff Report, Discussion

The topic of Huron Hills came up during the meeting in two contexts: During the quarterly financial report, and as part of the parks and rec manager’s update from Colin Smith.

During the quarterly financial update, Smith noted that revenues from Huron Hills had improved so far this year, compared to the previous fiscal year. Last year at this point, the course had about $145,000 in revenues – that compares to about $179,000 so far this year. They’re projecting revenues by the end of the fiscal year to exceed budget by as much as $35,000. Greens fees and cart rental revenues are up, and expenses are in line with last year, Smith said. “So Huron’s off to a good start.” [.pdf of Huron Hills financial statement]

During his manager’s report, Smith noted that the city had received two responses to its request for proposals (RFP): One from Miles of Golf, and one from Ann Arbor Golf. [See Chronicle coverage: "Two Huron Hills Golf Proposals Submitted"]

He alluded to emails that commissioners received over the weekend, and said that prior to the RFP being issued, it had been reviewed by the city attorney’s office. The proposals will be reviewed by the city attorney’s staff as well, he said.

Smith was referring to a five-page letter sent to the mayor and city council by attorney Susan Morrison, on behalf of Ann Arbor for Parkland Preservation. The letter urged the city to reject the Miles of Golf proposal, saying that it does not comply with city zoning ordinances and the RFP requirements, among other things. [.pdf of letter]

Smith said that a selection committee would be meeting later this week to review the proposals. If they decide to hold interviews for either of the proposals, those interviews are tentatively scheduled for Dec. 3.

Later in the meeting, PAC chair Julie Grand noted that she’ll be serving on the selection committee, and that they’re committed to a transparent, honest process. She said she understands that feelings of skepticism are out there – she pointed to the fact that the proposals were posted online soon after they were received, as an example of the city’s desire to make this process transparent.

The selection committee could choose to interview one, both or neither proposal, she said. They’ll make a recommendation to the city’s golf advisory task force, which in turn will make a recommendation to PAC. PAC could hold a public hearing, likely in December or January, and make its own recommendation to council. The city council would have the final decision.

The selection committee consists of the following: Grand; Smith; Doug Kelly, the city’s director of golf; Ward 2 city councilmember Stephen Rapundalo; former city councilmember Mike Reid; Ed Walsh, a member of the city’s golf advisory task force; and Sumedh Bahl, the city’s community services area administrator, whose responsibilities include overseeing the parks and rec operations.

Tim Doyle asked what the potential outcomes might be – he recalled there was the possibility of negotiations taking place at some point. He asked whether that would happen prior to being voted on by city council. Smith said it would depend on the proposal, but that if a proposal goes to the city council, the council vote would likely authorize the city staff to negotiate for a final contract.

Tim Berla asked what basic criteria would be used to evaluate the proposals. Was it based on finances, or making golfers happy, or something else? Smith said the scope of the RFP required continuing golf at Huron Hills – whether it would look the same as it does today would be up to the proposal, he said. The point is to enhance the golf experience, he said, but finances are also a piece of it, as is the proposer’s prior golf experience. Responses to the RFP include a separate sealed envelope that contains the financial proposal. That envelope won’t be opened until they move to the interview process, Smith said.

Argo Dam

Issues related to Argo came up at several different points in Tuesday’s meeting, beginning with public commentary.

Argo: Public Commentary

Vicki Dischler told commissioners that she lives near the canoe livery on Argo Pond, and that she was there to talk about the use of megaphones by rowing crew teams rowing on Argo. Many teams are now using a new technology that don’t use megaphones and are not as loud, but there are still times when some rowers use megaphones that over-amplify the directions that they shout, she said. She requested that megaphones be disallowed by the city, calling them a nuisance for residents and users of the park. The noise occurs six days a week during the fall and spring, she noted. Dischler said she’s written about the issue to city council, PAC and crew coaches, but her last email got no response. Speaking at public commentary was the only other way she knew to get the issue addressed, she said.

Argo: Staff Report

In his manager’s report, Colin Smith noted that the Ann Arbor city council had approved the $1.168 million Argo Dam bypass project that PAC had recommended at its October meeting. The project entails reconstructing the headrace into a series of connected pools that would flow from Argo Pond down to the river – eliminating the need to portage. The trail on the embankment would be widened and paved, making it more accessible for pedestrians and cyclists. In addition, a section of whitewater will be created on the Huron River, slightly upstream from the headrace channel’s exit into the river.

Smith said there was a great deal of discussion among councilmembers about how to fund the project. Originally, $300,000 from the city’s drinking water fund – money that had previously been earmarked for toe drain repair on the dam’s embankment – was included in the bypass project’s funding. Smith said a friendly amendment to the proposal stated that if staff is able to come up with other funding sources or cost savings, then that $300,000 won’t be used for the bypass. The main source of funding – as much as $683,000 – is from the city’s Parks Rehabilitation & Development millage. An additional $195,000 is available from the same millage, which has been earmarked for improvement of river parks.

Staff is very excited about the project, Smith said, and planned to have a meeting later in the week to talk about next steps.

Argo: Commissioner Discussion

Tim Berla asked for clarification about the source for part of the funding – was it the drinking water fund, or the stormwater fund? Christopher Taylor, an ex-officio PAC member who represents Ward 3 on city council, said the source was the treated water fund. [The treated water fund is commonly referred to as the drinking water fund.] Berla clarified that council is seeking legal guidance about the use of the water fund to pay for projects related to Argo Dam. Taylor reported that the city council, at its Monday meeting, had directed the city administrator to remove the dams from the treated water fund for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2011.

Taylor later said the expectation is that more expenses related to dams will be picked up by the parks budget.

Gwen Nystuen said she’s been worried about the legal status of parks, and about how protected parkland actually is. She wondered whether some of the land around the city’s dams, as well as the land underneath the water, was considered parkland or public land. Are the dams themselves considered parkland? If not, should the parks system be paying for something that isn’t parkland?

Taylor said he didn’t know who owns the land under the river, nor does he know whether the water’s surface would be considered parkland. But for the purpose of a community conversation, he said, the river has been described as a bluefield – in recognition of its recreational use, similar to a greenfield.

Sam Offen asked Smith whether they could get a legal opinion on the issue from the city attorney. The question about land ownership and designation could apply to all of the waterways that run through the city, he said. Smith said he’d figure out the best way to pursue it. The discussion would be relevant in developing the budget, he added, as part of a broader discussion over how costs are allocated and what funds are appropriate to use for certain projects.

Berla weighed in, saying the only time he could imagine the distinction between parkland and public land being relevant is if the city wanted to sell a dam without getting voter approval. [A charter amendment requires the city to seek voter approval before selling parkland.] He said it’s unlikely the city would do that, so it seemed like an academic point to him. But it is relevant to identify where the funding will come from to maintain the dams, he said – the city could still decide to use parks funds for the maintenance of public lands. The point is that if a dam is used for recreational purposes, then it makes sense for funds to come out of the parks budget, he said.

Smith noted that the designation of the dams as parkland or public land might impact how you could use certain funds. For example, the parks millage is used for maintenance of recreational facilities. If you view the dam as a parks and rec facility or infrastructure that provides a recreational amenity, then would it have to also be a park in order to use the parks millage for it?

Mike Anglin said he didn’t thinks the parks system could afford to take care of everything associated with the river. “It’s just an awesome responsibility,” he said.

At the end of the discussion, Nystuen complimented PAC chair Julie Grand for representing PAC’s views to city council about the Argo bypass project. [Grand had spoken about the project at Monday's council meeting during public commentary time.] Nystuen praised Smith for his commentary at the council meeting, too. She said it was nice to have a project on which there was unanimity.

Grand said PAC’s unanimous vote reflected their enthusiasm, and the project’s obvious benefits, adding, “It’s nice to get a win, right?”

Argo: What about the Skatepark?

Under the agenda item for new business, Tim Berla said that following last month’s meeting and PAC’s approval of the Argo bypass project, he’d received a number of emails regarding the city’s role in a skatepark that’s being developed by a community group. At the October meeting, Berla had mentioned the skatepark himself. From The Chronicle’s report:

Berla then said he was concerned about the sustainability of financing for this [bypass] project. For years, they’ve been using the drinking water fund to pay for dam maintenance, he said, and he was personally uncomfortable with that, because Argo has nothing to do with drinking water. The project would require a lot of money to maintain over the next 20 years, and he doesn’t see where that money can come from except from the parks and recreation budget. He said that spending $683,000 from the millage fund was entirely legit – but it would be equally legit to spend it on other projects, like a skatepark.

On Tuesday, Berla said the emails he received caused him to wonder in what ways the city can move forward to find some capital funding for a skatepark. He noted that the county has already pledged some money. He said he understands that the city is contributing the site at Veterans Memorial Park, and that its memorandum of intent with skatepark organizers is important. But the skatepark seems like a really good amenity for the community, and he’d like to have a discussion about helping fund it.

Parks staff has a well-organized capital projects planning system, he noted, in which projects are listed and prioritized. But then there emerge other projects outside of that list, and funding is made available for them, he observed – like the $1.168 million for the Argo Dam bypass. Berla said he’d like to find a way to find funding for the skatepark in the capital improvements plan (CIP).

Gwen Nystuen suggested holding a work session on the topic. She noted that the PROS plan includes these kinds of priorities too. There are several potential projects like the skatepark, she said, including the Allen Creek Greenway, another dog park, and the city’s ball fields. Nystuen said she’d also like to see more work on connecting the city parks’ trails and pathways.

Smith noted that the draft of the PROS plan will be distributed in early December, and that it might be possible to hold a work session related to capital projects in that context. He said a robust discussion should include a look at all needs in the parks system, not just one project. From the staff’s perspective, he added, it’s important to renovate, reconstruct and improve the system’s existing infrastructure as well – that should be part of the discussion, too. He suggested the timing for a work session might be in December or January.

First-Quarter Budget Update

Sam Offen, chair of PAC’s finance committee, began the presentation by noting that the report covers the period from July 1 through Oct. 31, 2010 – much of the summer recreational activities are reflected in the report, he said, and the numbers look good. He also pointed out that due to a change in the accounting system, some large payments to parks and rec – including a fund transfer, and two parking payments from the University of Michigan – aren’t recorded yet. All in all, he said, he was pleased with the year so far.

Parks manager Colin Smith highlighted several items in the budget. He noted that the year has started off well, which will make next April, May and June – the start of the next recreational season, and the end of the fiscal year – less nerve-wracking. Revenues for facility rentals – including Cobblestone Farm and other venues – were well ahead of last year, at $157,095 so far this year, compared to $91,990 for the same period in FY 2010. Veterans Pool has seen revenues increase from $40,685 year-to-date last year, to $61,281 this year. Most of that increase is due to an increase in the number of swimmers using the pool, Smith said.

Canoe liveries are also doing well, he said, as is the senior center, which at one point the city had considered closing. Revenues to-date last year for the senior center were $18,299, compared to $31,713 this year. Expenses are about $10,o00 lower than the previous year, as more volunteers are being enlisted. “So they’re moving in the right direction,” he said.

Overall, Smith said he didn’t see anything in the budget that concerned him, and that he was pleased with where things stood after the first four months of the fiscal year.

First-Quarter Budget Update: Commissioner Comments, Questions

Commissioners’ questions covered a wide range of issues. David Barrett noted that the city had purchased a lot of equipment for the golf courses, and he wondered if that had been successful. Smith replied that the condition of the courses has improved, and the feedback from golfers has been positive – more people are coming to the courses, he said, and returning more than once. Barrett said that at one point there had been concerns about underground pipes and pumping – Smith reported that they had purchased a variable-speed pump, and everything is working well.

Tim Berla wanted to know how much the city’s general fund is subsidizing parks operations. Smith said the revenue budget for FY 2011 is $2.4 million, and expenditures are expected to be $3.6 million, for a net subsidy of $1.2 million – that’s the general fund amount for parks and rec services. That figure doesn’t include the field operations budget.

Berla observed that there used to be one number for the parks department. When the city reorganized, it split parks and rec into two areas – community services, and public services. Smith acknowledged that this was the case, noting that the public services unit, via the field operations staff, runs maintenance for all of the parks that aren’t “facilities within the fence.” Parks and rec covers the facilities and programs.

The $1.2 million net from the general fund is for the community services portion of parks and rec. Berla said he was interested in identifying the total amount the city’s general fund is contributing to parks. Smith said he thought the number for public services was about $2.9 million net. He said he’d provide a report on the issue next month. Gwen Nystuen said she’d also like to see the number for the city’s general fund contributions to parks going back several years.

Berla then clarified that the golf enterprise fund – consisting of operations at Huron Hills and Leslie Park golf courses – was receiving a $519,000 general fund subsidy for FY 2011. Berla asked why the figure is reported as a combined number for both courses, not separated out. Smith said it was likely because it’s a transfer from one fund to another – it’s not activity-specific. He said in the future they could report how much money from the general fund was going to each course.

Tim Doyle said it is his understanding that the two courses shared some expenses, but Smith said there’s little overlap. Each course has its own staff, equipment and materials.

Matt Warba, the city’s supervisor of field operations, reviewed the field operations portion of the budget for PAC, focusing on questions that he’d been asked by Offen and Nystuen at the finance committee meeting.

A line item for trunkline maintenance referred to state funding – $13,796 so far this year – that was provided to the city for maintenance of traffic islands and similar road-related property. He explained that the $41,114 in expenses for snow and ice control reflects equipment repairs. The line item for athletic fields and game courts showed a dramatic change – from $430,892 in FY 2009 to $14,927 in FY 2010. That reflects funding spent on major renovations at Fuller and Olson fields, Warba said.

The line item expense for debt service – nearly $296,000 each year – is for the field operations’ share of Wheeler Service Center, where that unit is housed. It’s a 25-year payout, Warba said, ending in 2031.

Nystuen asked about the line item expense for non-parks mowing, budgeted for $41,151 this year. Warba said they pay a contractor to mow traffic islands that aren’t covered by funds from the state. The islands are scattered all over the city, and it’s more efficient to pay a contractor to handle it, he said. It’s paid for out of the city’s general fund. Nystuen clarified that the street maintenance funds don’t pay for any of it.

Berla asked whether the general fund money for non-parks mowing would count as part of the general fund subsidy for parks. This kind of thing will become more of an issue as they talk about things like maintaining dams, and whether or not that expense comes out of the parks budget, he said.

Smith said that the field operations unit provides maintenance for all of the city’s infrastructure. He said it would be possible to prepare a report that broke out the general fund allocations to parks and non-parks operations, and that he’d bring it to next month’s meeting.

Berla then asked the two city councilmembers on PAC – Mike Anglin and Christopher Taylor – whether those figures were meaningful for council. That is, was there a time when the council said, “Oh, let’s give a little more money to parks” – and whether it would be meaningful that funding from the parks operations was not being used for non-parks work. Christopher Taylor replied, “I think we would tend not to get that granular.” Taylor added they would tend to look at funding for parks and field operations, but not at whether field operations staff were mowing in parks or some other public land.

Berla then clarified that it’s not really the case that the council discusses how much of a general fund subsidy the parks should receive – they’re not really paying attention to that number, he observed. He said the reason he raised the issue is that several years ago, there was a specific promise related to the parks millage, when council pledged that the total general fund subsidy wouldn’t be diminished as a percentage of the overall general fund, if the millage passed.

By way of background, in 2006 Ann Arbor voters were asked to approve a millage that 1) combined two previous millages for park maintenance and capital improvements, and 2) increased the revenue. In October of that year prior to the election, the city council passed a non-binding resolution stating that funding for parks would increase or decrease by the same proportion that the general fund grows or shrinks. Here’s the resolved clause from that resolution – items 4-6 pertain to this issue:

RESOLVED, That City Council amend the adopted policy guidance for the Park Maintenance and Capital Improvements Millage to read as follows:

1. Adoption of the Funding Distribution Guidelines as stipulated in Attachment A (on file in the City Clerk’s Office);

2. Annual allocation for maintenance is to be between 60% and 80% and capital improvements is to be between 20% and 40% with a total annual allocation being 100%;

3. The Natural Area Preservation Program budget be established at a minimum of $700,000.00 for first year of the millage budget and that it receive a minimum 3% annual increase for each of the subsequent five years of the millage to enhance the stewardship of increased acreage of natural park areas;

4. If future reductions are necessary in the City’s general fund budget, during any of the six years of this millage, beginning with Fiscal Year 2007-2008, the general fund budget supporting the parks and recreation system for that year will be reduced by a percentage no greater than the average percentage reduction of the total City general fund budget;

5. If future increases occur in the City’s general fund budget during any of the six years of this millage, beginning with Fiscal Year 2007-2008, the general fund budget supporting the parks and recreation system for that year will be increased at the same rate as the average percentage increase of the total City general fund budget;

6. City Council will verify these expenditures by examining the audit statement for each year.

7. The millage will not be subject to a municipal service charge;

8. The millage may be subject to appropriate information technology and fleet charges;

9. If the millage is not renewed after the six years, the Natural Area Preservation Program will receive the same percentage of any remaining fund balance from the Park Maintenance and Capital Improvements Millage as was in the approved budgeted in the sixth year of the millage; and

RESOLVED, That if the millage is adopted, the City Administrator be directed to develop an annual millage budget for review and recommendation by the Park Advisory Commission with final adoption by City Council consistent with this Resolution.

The resolution was meant to assure voters that general fund support for parks wouldn’t be diminished as a result of additional millage funding.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Taylor said that in that context, there could be direction from council to the city administrator to “observe that percentage.”

Capital Improvements Update

Parks planner Amy Kuras gave an update about capital improvement projects throughout the parks system. Here’s a summary:

  • Buhr Park: Kuras reported that the steel structure of the ice rink will be cleaned and painted – the project has been delayed until the spring of 2011. Replacement of a walk from Easy Street to the entry road is completed. Neighborhood volunteers will be planting a new stormwater basin with native vegetation in the spring.
  • Cobblestone Farm Barn: The asphalt walk leading from the parking lot to the barn was repaved.
  • Farmers Market: Electrical upgrades – providing more outlets for vendors and replacing existing outlets with GFI outlets – are almost finished.
  • Gallup Park: A conceptual design for renovating the approach to the livery is completed, as is an expanded patio and barrier-free docks.
  • Veterans Memorial Park Ice Arena: Parking lot reconstruction is completed, as is reconstruction of the tennis courts – aside from color coating and striping, which will be done in the spring. A pedestrian walk at Dexter and Maple avenues has been replaced. Design is underway for a solar shade structure on the pool deck, funded by a grant from the city’s energy office.
  • West Park: Kuras reported that the park’s major renovation is almost finished – the park is now open, and most of the construction fencing has been removed. Work included stormwater improvements, pathway construction, seat walls at the bandshell, basketball court replacement, parking lot renovations and landscaping. Additional landscaping will occur in the spring, she said. Public art sculptures have been installed on the seat wall near the bandshell. [See Chronicle coverage: "Mural Project OK'd, West Park Art Installed"] Stucco repair and painting of the band shell is finished, and the house on Chapin Street that was bought by the city earlier this year will be demolished soon. The tennis court will be rebuilt in the spring, she said, and work is underway to prepare construction drawings for that.

In addition, Kuras gave commissioners a report about the update of the city’s Parks & Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan. A draft master plan is available for PAC to review, she said. At its Nov. 3 meeting, the Ann Arbor planning commission approved distribution of the draft plan. The draft will be available for public review in December, following city council approval of the plan’s distribution. Both the planning commission and city council will need to approve the final draft – those votes will likely occur in March, Kuras said.

Several commissioners, as well as parks manager Colin Smith, praised Kuras for her efforts, citing specifically the major projects of the West Park renovation and PROS plan update. Julie Grand noted that in the past, the city had paid a consultant to work on the PROS plan update – Kuras saved the city money by taking on the project herself, she said.

Rec & Ed, Ball Field Update

During his report as liaison for the recreation advisory commission, Tim Berla said that the group had received an update on finances from Sara Aeschbach, director of the Ann Arbor Rec & Ed program, which is part of the Ann Arbor Public Schools. He reported that because of the economy, the program’s expenses exceeded revenues, and that if it continues, they’ll have to make cuts or raise fees. Last year, Rec & Ed gave out $400,000 worth of scholarships to families in need. He noted that years ago, the city previously contributed to those scholarships, though it doesn’t anymore. If Rec & Ed has to tighten their belts, the scholarships would likely be decreased, he said. Overall, the financial situation there is “not a crisis, it’s just a concern,” he said. Moving the program into its new offices at Pioneer High School is expected to help on the expense side, since they will no longer be paying rent, he said.

Berla also reported that he and Dave Barrett had met with several staff members from the Ann Arbor Public Schools, including Aeschbach and Randy Trent – the school district’s executive director of physical properties – to talk about the condition of ball fields at the schools. Barrett has taken the lead in assessing the conditions of the city’s ball fields – he presented a report at PAC’s Sept. 21, 2010 meeting. [.pdf file of Barrett's ballpark report]

From Barrett’s written report:

From the general to the specific, the larger canvas of their state is that many fields appear to be worn down and dog eared. Some simply need some work around the edges; others need fundamental renovation. Some fields need dirt and a refashioning of the drainage from the fields so that every rainstorm does not stop play for days; others need new backstops. Some need the outfields to be fertilized so the grass in the outfield grows evenly versus in clumps; others simply need more frequent mowing. Some need decent rubbers on the mound so the pitchers have something decent to push off of when they throw the ball; others have infields that are so hard that sliding would be inadvisable if not dangerous.

The interrelationship between the City, the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and Rec & Ed is a complex tapestry that was woven together organically over the years when monies were more plentiful – but as the budgetary stresses touched all of these organizations, there was a need to clarify the exact maintenance responsibilities of each. Recently, these responsibilities have been formalized in an agreement between all parties. Whether this has helped or hindered the maintenance of the existing fields remains to be seen. That said, this on-going dialogue should aid in figuring out how to best use limited resources.

At Tuesday’s PAC meeting, Berla explained what they’d learned from meeting with AAPS staff. The district’s basic model in approaching capital improvements at the schools is to get a list of prioritized projects from each building’s principal, he said. Not surprisingly, projects like improving the ball diamonds are at the bottom of those lists, he noted.

Barrett said they focused their discussion on middle school ball fields, which are generally in the worst shape. He said the AAPS staff had been very open to the conversation, but had started with an all-or-nothing attitude. That is, they felt they either needed enough funding to do all the desired rehab, or it wasn’t worth doing. Barrett said he tried to convince them that even a small investment could make a big difference – about $4,000 spent at Forsythe made a dramatic improvement. “Let’s not let perfection be the enemy of the good,” he said. Aeschbach had indicated there was the possibility of retooling the capital improvements process, Barrett said, adding that he left the meeting feeling encouraged.

NAP Volunteers of the Year

Jason Frenzel, volunteer and outreach coordinator for the city’s natural area preservation and Adopt-A-Park programs, was on hand to introduce this year’s NAP Volunteers of the Year – Judy and Manfred Schmidt.

Manfred Schmidt, Jason Frenzel

Manfred Schmidt, left, talks with Jason Frenzel prior to the start of the Nov. 16 park advisory commission meeting. Frenzel is volunteer and outreach coordinator for the city's natural area preservation program. Manfred and Judy Schmidt were honored as NAP volunteers of the year.

Some years, the award goes to someone who has made an amazing contribution during the year, Frenzel said. Other times, it’s for lifetime achievement – and that’s the case for the Schmidts, he said, who’ve been working on natural area preservation “a few decades longer than our program has been around.”

Frenzel read a mayoral proclamation that had been given to the Schmidts at a recent volunteer award event. Their work has focused on the Scarlett-Mitchell Nature Area, a 25-acre park adjacent to Scarlett and Mitchell schools and Mitchell-Scarlett Woods. Judy Schmidt said they’ve been working in that area for about 40 years, and she joked that if they’d known it would be that long, she’s not sure they would have started.

Manfred Schmidt recalled how it took about 35-40 years and a lot of lobbying to get the city to buy the land that’s now the Scarlett-Mitchell Nature Area. He joked about his tenacity, saying that his attitude had been, “I will outlive you all!” He also said he had a solution for the city’s budget challenges: If he got a quarter for every buckthorn he cut, “I think there would be no problem with your budget.”

Commissioners gave the Schmidts a round of applause, and thanked them for their work over the years. Julie Grand said that since Manfred Schmidt was going to outlive them all, she hoped he would continue his work as well.

Present: David Barrett, Tim Doyle, Gwen Nystuen, Sam Offen, Julie Grand, Doug Chapman, Karen Levin, Tim Berla, Mike Anglin (ex-officio), Christopher Taylor (ex-officio)

Absent: John Lawter

Next meeting: Tuesday, Dec. 21 at 4 p.m. in the studios of Community Television Network (CTN), 2805 S. Industrial Hwy., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

One Comment

  1. By Judith Schmidt
    November 28, 2010 at 5:08 pm | permalink

    Just wanted to let you know that the entire area of Scarlett-Mitchell Park, Mitchell Scarlett Woods and Scarlett-Mitchell Park addition, formerly known as the “Korshack section”, comprises nearly 90 acres, including a mature oak-hickory woods, an extensive cattail marsh, a pond- dredged out in the 1980s, and overgrown farm fields. There are about 5 miles of trails for hiking and cross country skiing.