Major Renovation of City Ballfields Planned

Also: Ann Arbor parks group briefed on West Park, athletic fields

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Jan. 24, 2012): Baseball fields in three city parks will be getting a major overhaul, if the Ann Arbor city council approves a recent recommendation by park commissioners.

Baseball field #4 at Veterans Memorial Park

Baseball field #4 at Veterans Memorial Park will be among fields at three parks that will be renovated, if the Ann Arbor city council approves a recommendation of the park advisory commission. (Photos by the writer.)

PAC unanimously recommended awarding a nearly $1 million contract to RMD Holdings of Chesterfield, Michigan, for renovation of ballfields at Veterans Memorial Park, West Park and Southeast Area Park. If approved by the city council, work would begin after the 2012 summer season. Ann Arbor Rec & Ed – a unit of the Ann Arbor Public Schools – plans to cancel its fall season in light of the project. Teams playing in Rec & Ed programs are the primary users of these fields.

Commissioners also got an update on the status of West Park renovations – specifically, how problems with an underground stormwater system are being addressed. City engineer Nick Hutchinson described plans for repairing the system, saying that legal issues are still being worked out, but the project will likely be completed by July of 2012. A public forum will be held on Feb. 13 at Slauson Middle School to update residents. At a similar meeting held in mid-January, residents raised concerns over whether the situation in West Park has caused flooding in nearby basements.

Also at PAC’s Jan. 24 meeting, commissioner Gwen Nystuen urged the group to consider taking action on the Allen Creek greenway, in light of remarks made by mayor John Hieftje at the city council’s Jan. 23 meeting regarding the city-owned 415 W. Washington property. Colin Smith, the city’s manager of parks and recreation, reported that there’s been discussion about possibly applying for a state grant to help fund the greenway, but the timeline for applying this year is tight. He also suggested that an initial step would be to develop a master plan for the greenway, as recommended in the city’s parks, recreation and open space plan.

Near the beginning of the meeting, commissioner Sam Offen introduced the new executive director for the Leslie Science & Nature Center, Susan Westhoff, who spoke briefly to commissioners. Offen is a board member of the center, a nonprofit that’s located on city property.

Ballfield Renovations

The main action item on the Jan. 24 agenda was a resolution recommending a nearly $1 million contract to renovate softball and baseball fields at three city parks.

If approved by the city council, the $982,333 contract would be awarded to RMD Holdings of Chesterfield, Michigan. That amount includes a $893,030 base bid plus a 10% contingency of $89,303. It was the lowest of four bids received for the project, which will focus on the fenced ballparks at Veterans Memorial Park, West Park and Southeast Area Park. Originally, the city had intended to include fields at Allmendinger Park as well, but bids came in higher than expected, and that work was eliminated from the project.

The renovations have been in the works for more than two years. At PAC’s September 2010 meeting, commissioner David Barrett gave a report on the condition of the city’s ballparks after personally surveying them. [.pdf file of Barrett's ballpark report] According to a staff memo accompanying the Jan. 24 resolution, no major restoration work has been done on the fields in more than 10 years.

Staff from Ann Arbor Rec & Ed, a unit of the public school system, will work with city staff on this project – Rec & Ed programs are the primary users of these fields. Construction will likely begin in mid-August of 2012, with fields ready for use again in early spring of 2013. Rec & Ed plans to cancel its fall season to accommodate the project.

Funding will be drawn from three sources: (1) $250,000 from the approved FY 2012 parks maintenance and capital improvements millage budget; (2) $64,000 from an unobligated remaining fund balance in the expired park repair and restoration millage; and (3) $668,333 from the unobligated fund balance of the existing parks maintenance and capital improvements millage.

Deputy parks manager Jeff Straw and Matt Warba, the city’s supervisor of field operations, briefed PAC on the proposal. Straw noted that in collecting feedback for the 2010 update to the parks, recreation and open space (PROS) plan, the city heard loud and clear that people wanted better maintenance of the fields. The fields – used for baseball, softball and kickball – drew more than 5,000 players during the summer and fall seasons in 2011, Straw said.

Warba noted that when the city had a larger parks staff, renovations of the fields occurred every 10 years. Now, that’s no longer possible to do in-house, he said. Describing the current conditions of the fields, Warba said they are poorly graded, with poor drainage that results in water pooling in the infield, which limits play. The material used for the infield makes it dusty in the summer, and doesn’t allow water to drain quickly when it rains.

For the outfields, the playing surfaces are uneven, Warba said, the turf is in poor condition, and the warning tracks are filled with weeds. Fencing is deteriorating and damaged, and many of the backstops don’t have overhangs.

Upgrades will include regrading the infields, removing the infield lip, replacing the existing infield material with red clay, and installing drainage around the infield’s perimeter. Fencing will be replaced, automated irrigation systems will be installed, field turf will be restored, and concrete will be used for floors of the dugouts and bleacher pads.

Warba told commissioners that Stantec had drawn up designs for the project, and that the lowest “responsible” bid came from RMD Holdings, a company with prior experience doing this work.

Ballfield Renovations: Commission Discussion

Karen Levin asked whether other fields in the city’s parks system can be used to play on during the renovations. Warba said there are 24 other neighborhood fields available. The next phase of this project will be upgrading those as well, he said. Straw added that Rec & Ed decided to cancel its fall season in part because lighting would be a challenge – most of the other ballfields don’t have lights.

Colin Smith, the city’s manager of parks and recreation, noted that no matter how the renovations are handled, it will be inconvenient. Rec & Ed staff felt this would be the best approach, he said. Rec & Ed director Sara Aeschbach told commissioners that players had been surveyed about their preferences, and the strong preference was to preserve the summer season. Using the neighborhood ballparks is too difficult in the fall, because it gets dark earlier. She said players are excited that the fields will be improved.

Gwen Nystuen asked about the material that would be used under the team benches. Will it be a pervious surface? Water drainage is important, she noted. Warba replied that the area will be designed with an angle to allow water to flow off the surface. Pervious materials weren’t considered, he said, though there’s still time to make changes.

Colin Smith

Colin Smith, Ann Arbor's parks and recreation manager.

Smith noted that the majority of players wear cleats, which would create problems for any pervious surface. He also pointed out that significant stormwater improvements will be made in that section of Veterans Memorial Park, as part of the Dexter-Ann Arbor street repair project.

Nystuen said that in general, whenever they can install pervious surfaces, it will make a difference in helping address stormwater runoff.

Christopher Taylor asked whether the ballpark renovations would coordinate in any way with the possible skatepark construction at Vets. Smith replied that it’s unlikely the skatepark construction will begin by August – it’s more likely that work on the project will start in the spring of 2013. In response to another query from Taylor, Smith indicated that construction equipment used to build the skatepark isn’t expected to damage the work done on the ballfields.

Mike Anglin said he assumed that the parks staff had coordinated this project with the road work being done along Dexter-Ann Arbor. Yes, Smith said. The stretch of Dexter-Ann Arbor along Veterans Memorial Park, east of Maple, will likely be closed from April through November. That’s another good reason for the fall season to be canceled, Smith said, adding that a lot of coordination will be needed.

Julie Grand observed that rates for using the fields at Fuller and Olson parks increased after those fields were renovated. Would rates also be increased at the ballfields after renovations?

Aeschbach said that Rec & Ed charges fees to cover the cost of prepping the fields for play, and those costs won’t change. It’s up to the city, she said, to set the actual rental rates for the fields. Many user groups no longer play on city fields because of the damaged conditions, she said, so demand isn’t high. Perhaps after the fields are renovated, the city can check to see if those groups will return and pay a higher rate.

Smith noted that this project is in line with the philosophy of taking care of and restoring what the city already owns. The ballfields are eyesores, he said, and not good for playing. In addition, Veterans Memorial Park is located at one of the major entry points into town – the corner of Maple and Dexter-Ann Arbor roads. The area needs attention, he said, and the city is undertaking a major effort to do that, in part to respond to feedback from users.

Outcome: Commissioner voted unanimously to recommend approval of the $982,333 contract with RMD Holdings for ballfield renovations at Veterans Memorial Park, West Park and Southeast Area Park. The recommendation will be forwarded to city council for consideration.

West Park Update

Commissioners had received an update on problems at West Park nearly a year ago, when Craig Hupy – head of systems planning for the city – spoke at PAC’s February 2011 meeting. At that time, Hupy had described the situation with the stormwater infrastructure there as a “catastrophic failure.”

PAC got a more detailed briefing at its Jan. 24 meeting. Parks planner Amy Kuras introduced Nick Hutchinson, a civil engineer and one of the project managers in the city’s public services unit, who was on hand to give an update on the status of swirl concentrators at West Park. It was a shortened version of a similar presentation he’d given at a public forum on the topic earlier in January. Kuras reported that forum had been well-attended.

Nick Hutchinson

Nick Hutchinson, an engineer and project manager with the city of Ann Arbor, updated PAC on the status of infrastructure renovations at West Park.

Hutchinson began by giving a brief history of stormwater management in West Park. Originally, north and south branches of Allen Creek flowed over the surface through the land that’s now West Park. In the early 20th century, Washtenaw County built drains through the park to collect stormwater, and directed the flow of Allen Creek into underground pipes. There’s also a sanitary sewer main that runs underground through the park. Hutchinson showed a map that indicated the location of the floodway and floodplain running through the park, as well as the location of the sewer main and county drains.

Over the years, conditions worsened. Deteriorating recreational facilities and uncontrolled flooding in the park led to certain areas being underused.

In 2010, the city renovated West Park, including its bandshell, basketball courts and pathways. The project also included upgrades for stormwater management, Hutchinson said. [The total project, supported in part by federal stimulus funds, cost about $4 million.]

The stormwater portion of the project included installation of some water treatment units – swirl concentrators – on the west side of the park, in the north and south branches of the Allen Creek drain. The purpose was to divert some of the water from the stormwater system, treat it, and remove pollutants before reintroducing it into the system to flow eventually into the Huron River.

Another part of the stormwater management was to remove a nominal amount of water from the stormwater pipes by disconnecting the inlets from North Seventh Street and sending some of the water back to the surface, as it had flowed historically. Water was diverted to a series of bioswales that led to wetlands and ponds as it flowed east through the park.

When construction was being completed around November 2010, Hutchinson reported, a sinkhole appeared on the west side of the park near the drain’s north branch, where the swirl concentrators were located. “These are maybe some of the things that didn’t go quite right on the project,” he said, “that we are still trying to address now.”

The contractor investigated and discovered that the lid on a swirl concentrator had caved in. Cameras were sent down into the other units and it was discovered that all four units on the north branch were in some stage of failure.

Installation of swirl concentrator at West Park

This photo, part of the meeting packet for the Jan. 24 park advisory commission, shows the installation of a swirl concentrator at West Park in the summer of 2010.

Hutchinson explained how the swirl concentrators are supposed to work. Water is diverted from the main stormwater pipe through a device called a diversion manhole, containing a 3.5-foot “weir wall” that prevents the water from flowing directly into the main stormwater system. Instead, the diverted water flows into a large cylinder, where it swirls around in a vortex. The solids in the water are forced to the center of the unit, where the velocity of the swirling is slower and the solids settle down to the bottom. The water exits into a pipe on the other side of the unit and is reintroduced into the stormwater system.

During normal conditions or a light rain, most of the water is diverted. But in heavy rainfall, only a portion of the water is diverted – the rest flows over the weir wall and continues directly through the stormwater system, without passing through the swirl concentrators.

A total of eight swirl concentrators were installed – four on the north branch, and four on the south branch. Each unit cost about $66,000, including construction. They were initially installed in June of 2010.

In August of 2010, the four units in the south branch were taken offline because of concerns that the weir wall wasn’t operating correctly, Hutchinson said. The wall wasn’t allowing higher flows to pass through the system during heavy rains. Then in November of 2010, after the swirl concentrator collapsed on the north branch, all four of those units were also taken offline. The weir wall was removed from the diversion manhole, and a bulkhead was installed to block the pipe that led to the swirl concentrators. Since then, water has flowed directly through the stormwater pipes – none of it is diverted to the swirl concentrators. The stormwater system is functioning as it did prior to 2010, Hutchinson said.

In late 2010, the city hired Orchard Hiltz & McCliment (OHM) to look into the situation. OHM began by doing a forensic investigation of the swirl concentrator failures, and determined that the lids of those units were too thin, causing the collapse. ”It was essentially a manufacturing flaw,” Hutchinson said.

OHM also reviewed the prior design of the diversion manholes and weir walls, and conducted some site-specific stormwater modeling to get an understanding of how stormwater behaves in the system. They used that information to present some ideas for improving the system, Hutchinson said. [In November 2010, city council authorized an additional $119,000 for OHM to complete these tasks. That brought total payment to OHM for the West Park project to $324,000. An August 2011 city staff memo indicated that the city expects to recover any additional costs due to the failures, either from the manufacturer or the firm that made the initial design, Beckett & Raeder Inc.]

With a failure of this magnitude there are legal issues, Hutchinson said, including disputes regarding who’s at fault – the contractor (Site Development Inc.) or the manufacturer (AquaShield Inc. and L.F. Manufacturing). He said he couldn’t discuss those issues, except to say that the parties seem to be getting very close to reaching a resolution. The legal issues shouldn’t hold up completion of the project, he said.

Next steps include refining the design of the diversion manholes and weir walls. In addition, residents have raised concerns about manhole covers being popped off during heavy rains, because of pressure from excess water in the system. So OHM is looking at redesigning the system to provide some relief options so that pressure will be eased during storms.

Another public meeting will be held on Feb. 13 at Slauson Middle School. At that meeting, city staff will review OHM’s draft design, and discuss the technical issues that led to the design, Hutchinson said.

In May and June of 2012, the manufacturer will make repairs on the units. Following that, the city will hire a contractor to make the changes that OHM proposes to the diversion manholes and weir walls. City staff hope to have that work completed by July of 2012, Hutchinson said.

West Park Update: Commission Discussion

John Lawter asked whether there are concerns that the shutdown of the swirl concentrators is affecting water detention capability, making it difficult to control floodwater. No, Hutchinson said – the purpose of the swirl concentrators isn’t water detention, but rather to improve the water quality as it flows through.

Are there problems in terms of how much water the units can handle? Lawter asked. If too much water is sent through the units, Hutchinson replied, the water will simply bypass the units and flow over the weir wall, going directly into the stormwater system. Capacity is not a concern. The redesign of the weirs and diversion manholes will ensure that the right amount of water gets in, he said.

Lawter raised the issue of basements flooding in that area, and wondered whether that problem is related to the situation at West Park. An improperly designed weir structure could cause back-ups upstream, Hutchinson said. Any design that’s installed in the future will be studied to ensure that it doesn’t cause any upstream disturbances, he added.

Sam Offen noted that this concern was raised by residents at the January public meeting on West Park. Offen agreed that the issue either needed to be resolved through the new design, or that information should be provided to residents to explain the situation.

Offen also asked how construction would affect the active areas of the park. The work will happen on the park’s west side, Hutchinson said. Access to the ballfield, bandshell and paths will be undisturbed. Kuras added that there are three entrances to the park off of Seventh Street. The north and south entrances will be closed, but the middle entrance will remain open.

Mike Anglin asked whether there was any data related to water flow through the system that was collected prior to the installation of the swirl concentrators. OHM collected flow data in the spring and summer of 2011, Hutchinson said, by putting monitoring devices in the stormwater pipes.

Anglin asked whether the city was making an effort to talk with residents whose basements have flooded. Hutchinson replied that the current project doesn’t entail working with residents. The project is specific to West Park infrastructure.

Kuras added that at the recent public forum on the West Park situation, some people brought up the issue of basement flooding. City staff knows that they need to address the broader issues related to the entire Allen Creek area upstream from West Park, she said.

Hutchinson noted that some neighborhoods – like Maple Ridge – experienced flooding in 2011. At that time, the pipes had been returned to their pre-2010 condition, he said, so the flooding they experienced wasn’t related to changes at West Park, he said.

Report on Fuller & Olson Athletic Fields

Commissioners received an update on conditions of the city’s Fuller Park and Olson Park athletic fields, which were renovated in 2009-2010. The first post-renovation scheduling of play occurred in 2011, from March through November.

Jeff Straw, Matt Warba, Jessica Black

From left: Jeff Straw, Ann Arbor deputy parks and recreation manager; Matt Warba, supervisor of field operations; and Jessica Black, parks and recreation customer service manager.

Jessica Black, parks and recreation customer service manager, described how the six Fuller Park fields were used during the spring, summer and fall playing seasons. [.pdf of Fuller fields layouts in 2011] She noted that the two fields at Olson Park are always used as full fields, but that some Fuller Park fields are split into half fields. There are also seasons when the fields are taken out of play and allowed to “rest.”

Black provided a breakdown of the types of users, noting that “soccer is definitely our No. 1 use.” Teams playing soccer accounted for 65% of the use of fields, 15% were lacrosse teams, and the remaining 20% was split between flag football and ultimate frisbee.

A total of 15 teams used the fields throughout 2011, including eight teams that returned from previous years and seven new teams. There were youth and adult teams, and University of Michigan club sports.

City staff had determined that 35 games per field per season was the maximum number of games that should be allowed, in order to maintain the condition of the fields, Black reported. For the three seasons in 2011, Olson and Fuller fields were used at about 79% capacity, she said. At the six Fuller fields, 679 games were played out of a possible 875. At Olson’s two fields, 175 games were played out of 210 possible games.

Jeff Straw, the city’s deputy manager of parks and recreation, briefed commissioners on revenues from the fields. Rates were set at $60 per hour for most of the full fields at Fuller and for the two Olson fields. Half-field rates at Fuller were $40 per hour. For field #6 at Fuller, the rental fee was $32 an hour for a full field, and $20 an hour for a half field. [Previously, rates ranged from $16 an hour to a high of $31.50 an hour, depending on a variety of factors, including residency (Ann Arbor residents were charged lower rates) and time of day (rates for prime time, between 4-8 p.m., were higher). PAC recommended rate increases at its January 2010 meeting.]

Based on the maximum number of games allowed, the six Fuller fields could have brought in a maximum of $70,280. But because the fields were not used at full capacity, Fuller fields recorded $54,608 in revenues during 2011. Of that, $5,400 was later refunded due to weather cancellations, Straw said.

For Olson’s two fields, $21,000 in revenue was collected, but $1,500 was refunded because of cancellations. Those two fields had the potential to bring in $25,200 in revenues, if played to capacity.

Factoring in refunds, the eight fields at Fuller and Olson had a total of $68,708 in revenues during 2011.

Total estimated expenses were $82,688. Major line items were administration and scheduling costs ($25,000), mowing ($18,368) and fertilizing/aerification/overseeding ($18,800).

Commenting on the financials, Matt Warba – the city’s supervisor of field operations – said he didn’t think it was anyone’s intent to make the fields self-sufficient. But it’s getting close, he added, and that’s encouraging.

Warba also noted that April and May of 2011 were especially rainy months – the city had to cancel play on 25 days out of a 45-day period because of rain. Warba also noted that the irrigation system at Olson failed during the summer, resulting in turf loss. That system has been repaired.

Report on Fuller & Olson Athletic Fields: Commission Discussion

Karen Levin asked how 2012 expenses are expected to compare to 2011. Warba replied that costs generally are expected to remain static.

Sam Offen wondered how revenues compared to previous years. Colin Smith, manager of parks and recreation, said it would be difficult to compare since the rates were lower in the past, prior to the renovations. He hadn’t asked his staff to bring those figures.

Gwen Nystuen asked how long it would be before the city would need to invest in another major renovation of the fields. Warba replied that it would be possible to maintain the fields without major renovations. They’re taking a cautious approach, he said, by resting fields periodically so that they can be kept in good condition. The city staff has to balance demand for the fields against maintenance.

Julie Grand

Julie Grand, chair of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission.

Nystuen noted that because the fields are fenced in, that keeps people off when it’s raining. That was the intent, Warba said. Olson fields aren’t fenced, however, and in some cases players have jumped the fences at Fuller, he said. One field had to be taken out of play for a month because of the damage caused when people played on a field that was supposed to be closed. Warba said the city will likely hire a temporary worker next season to patrol the fields – it would be cheaper than having to repair damage to a field if players jump the fence.

John Lawter asked whether the city is meeting the need for this kind of play, or could they do more? Smith noted that the fields are at 79% capacity, so there’s space available. However, there’s more demand than capacity for prime time slots – between 4-8 p.m. Black reported that the staff has set the maximum number of games at 35 per field per season. If the city were to add more games in order to accommodate more teams, that might not ultimately meet the teams’ needs, because the condition of the fields would deteriorate. “It’s a balancing act,” Black said.

Smith said the city wants to avoid having to make another major investment in renovating the fields. If demand is high, it’s possible to look at adding fields in other parks, he added, or possibly to acquire more land for that purpose.

Julie Grand asked if the city is doing outreach to groups that might have a lower impact on the fields – sports that don’t involve as much running and kicking as soccer, for example. Black said that at this point, there hasn’t been that kind of outreach.

Gwen Nystuen called the overall report encouraging.

Communications: Allen Creek Greenway, Leslie Science Center

Every meeting includes opportunities for public commentary and communications from commissioners and staff. No one spoke during either of the slots for public commentary at the Jan. 24 meeting.

Communications: Allen Creek Greenway

Gwen Nystuen brought up the issue of the Allen Creek Greenway. She noted that mayor John Hieftje had mentioned there might be action taken soon on the city-owned 415 W. Washington property, which has been identified as a potential part of a greenway. He’d made these comments at the Jan. 23 city council meeting. She wondered if there was any additional information about that.

[Hieftje had indicated that talks were continuing with the group that had been formed to look at the city-owned 415 W. Washington lot. The council passed a resolution giving direction for the effort at its Feb. 1, 2010 meeting, nearly two years ago. The resolution calls for the arts and greenway communities to lead fundraising and development of a vision for the parcel’s use. The site, across from the YMCA, is currently providing revenue to the city as a surface parking lot. It was previously the city’s maintenance yard. At the Jan. 23, 2012 council meeting, Hieftje said the group continues to meet – the biggest challenge remains the building. He said a report on the status of the project would be given at the end of February.]

Christopher Taylor, an ex-officio member of PAC who also serves on city council, said he didn’t have any further information at all. Nystuen then reminded commissioners that the greenway is one of PAC’s priorities. The City Apartments project at First and Washington, by the developer Village Green, is moving ahead, she said. That residential development will include parking spaces, she added, which will free up the need for spaces at the city-owned First and William surface lot that’s located in a floodway. That lot could become part of a greenway, she observed.

Gwen Nystuen, Mike Anglin

Park commissioner Gwen Nystuen and city councilmember Mike Anglin, an ex-officio member of the commission.

The time has come for PAC to actively pursue the greenway, Nystuen said, adding that the city council passed a resolution recently in support of a greenway.

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, noted that a council resolution was passed on Aug. 4, 2011 expressing general support for the idea of a greenway. There have been conversations, he said, about applying for a grant from the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund, to turn the 415 W. Washington site into a park. The city staff is looking into that. The process would be similar to the way that the trust fund application for the skatepark had been handled, Smith explained. Staff would first come to PAC for a recommendation to apply. That recommendation would be forwarded to city council, which would need to approve the application.

Smith noted that one issue for the 415 W. Washington property is that it’s located in a historic district – the Old West Side. So in addition to PAC, the city would need a recommendation from the historic district commission too, he said.

Finally, Smith reminded commissioners that the parks, recreation and open space (PROS) plan, which PAC approved, recommends that the first action should be development of a master plan to guide the creation of a greenway. That point bears consideration, he said.

Nystuen responded by asking what PAC could do to move this process along. This year her term on the commission ends, she said, and the greenway has been a priority for her for both of her terms on PAC. That’s why she feels some urgency about this issue, she added.

What PAC decides as a body is up to commissioners, Smith replied. They can give direction to develop a greenway master plan, or tell staff to move ahead on the grant application before a master plan is developed. Nystuen asked how other commissioners felt – should they put forward a resolution?

Mike Anglin, a city councilmember who’s a non-voting ex-officio member of PAC, noted that the city’s environmental commission – on which he also serves has previously served – sometimes deals with issues related to parks. Perhaps a subcommittee of the two commissions could be formed to discuss the greenway, he said. There’s federal funding available for water management, he said, which might be one aspect of the greenway. Anglin also noted that the arts community has been interested in that site – they should be included in the dialogue, too.

There are several interested parties, Smith said – parks, the county drain commissioner, the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, the railroad owners, the Arts Alliance and others. That’s why having a master plan would be useful.

Julie Grand asked about a timeline for the grant application. It’s due April 2, Smith said. That means it would be necessary to secure a PAC recommendation in February, and city council approval in March. It’s also unclear how the historic district commission would fit into this process.

No doubt there’s strong interest in the community, Smith said. But it’s uncertain how to manage the project at this point. He noted that a task force had been formed in 2007 to evaluate development of a greenway that might incorporate the 415 W. Washington site as well as city property at 721 N. Main and First & William. The group couldn’t come to a consensus for the best use of 415 W. Washington, he said, so no decision was made. It seems like a public dialogue is needed to figure out the best option, he said.

Nystuen said she wanted to point out that the near-downtown area on the city’s west side has a shortage of green space. New residential developments will be bringing hundreds of young people downtown, so there will be an increased interest in recreational areas, she said. It makes sense to move forward with a greenway adjacent to downtown. Nystuen said it sounded like the best approach would be to put together a resolution for PAC’s February meeting.

Smith said he’s still waiting on direction regarding whether to apply for the grant. If he gets that direction, then of course the staff would bring a resolution to PAC, he said. Separately, PAC can do what it wants regarding the greenway – that’s not for him to say, Smith told commissioners.

Communications: Leslie Science & Nature Center

At the beginning of the Jan. 24 meeting, commissioner Sam Offen introduced the new executive director for the Leslie Science & Nature Center, Susan Westhoff. [Offen is a board member of the center.]

Sam Offen, Susan Westhoff

Sam Offen, an Ann Arbor park advisory commissioner, and Susan Westhoff, executive director of the Leslie Science & Nature Center. Offen also serves on the center's board.

Offen said that Westhoff started about a month ago and is already doing an excellent job. He noted there had been a recent public meeting at the center to discuss a master plan for pedestrian access there. [The center was previously part of the city's parks system, but was spun off as a separate nonprofit in 2007. The city continues to own the center’s property and buildings.]

Westhoff spoke briefly to commissioners, noting that the center and the city had a long history. She said she’s been working in nonprofit administration for about 15 years. She grew up in Canton and graduated from the University of Michigan. Her first nonprofit experience was at the University Musical Society, and she said she’s glad to be back in Ann Arbor.

Westhoff said she’d be happy to share the plans for the pedestrian pathway improvements that are being developed. Among other things, it will make paths to the center’s raptor enclosures ADA compliant. She also noted that the center has many great public programs, and highlighted the Feb. 12 “Hoo’s Your Valentine?” event that features the center’s barn owl.

Julie Grand, PAC’s chair, thanked Westhoff for coming and said she looked forward to collaborating.

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

Absent: David Barrett, Tim Berla, Tim Doyle.

Next meeting: PAC’s meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012 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 3:54
    February 1, 2012 at 3:54 pm | permalink

    Is Anglin on the Environmental Commission?

  2. February 1, 2012 at 4:10 pm | permalink

    Re: [1] “Is Anglin on the Environmental Commission?”

    No. I missed that on editing. I’ve made the correction. He served on the environmental commission for 2008.

  3. By John Floyd
    February 1, 2012 at 4:57 pm | permalink

    My son’ baseball teams abandoned Ann Arbor ball fields – including Vet’s – long ago, because playing home games at the EMU softball fields was both far cheaper, and provided a MUCH better playing surface. As a bonus, EMU also has a concession stand open during games. Let’s hope Ann Arbor fields will not still be unreasonably expensive when the renovations are done. It’s embarrassing that Lincoln, Dexter, Saline, Chelsea, Adrian, Novi, Livonia, Battle Creek, and other “Distressed” communities. all have vastly superior public facilities, for much less money, than “We’re in great shape” Ann Arbor.

    For all the noise about “Being Green”, this neglect of our public infrastructure by the city has resulted in many, many unnecessary driving trips to Ypsilanti that substitute for shorter drives, and even bike rides.

    Perhaps if we paint the base paths to look like cross walks, they would get reasonable care for reasonable costs. At least we have a million dollar fountain celebrating our green priorities.

  4. By Steve Bean
    February 1, 2012 at 9:53 pm | permalink

    @2: Really?

    The Env Comm’s charter precludes them from site-specific deliberations, so a joint subcommittee on the proposed greenway would be questionable. (The Huron River and Impoundment Management Plan process was a different critter in that it addressed broader policy questions.)

    Coincidentally, I was just thinking the other night about the appropriate role of city council members on commissions. Ex officio seems appropriate. Voting privileges for council members have sometimes led to less-than-open-minded-and-policy-oriented action by commissions in my experience. Council gets to have their politically focused say when it comes to their table. Commissions play a different role, and council would do well by the community to not overplay theirs.

  5. By Eric Boyd
    February 2, 2012 at 9:32 am | permalink

    Why did they wait until this year to apply for funding?

    I could be wrong, but I believe that I read that starting this year, much less annual funding will be available from Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund, as it has now met its cap by statute and they can only fund out of the interest.