County Parks Commission OKs $6M in Projects

Also: Staff, commissioners remember Meri Lou Murray

Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission meeting, July 24, 2012: At its most recent meeting, WCPARC approved contracts totaling nearly $6 million.

Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission meeting

Members of the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission at their July 24, 2012 meeting. In the foreground from the left are Nelson Meade and Fred Veigel, who is also a member of the Washtenaw County road commission. At the right (white jacket) is Dan Smith, who also represents District 2 on the county board of commissioners. (Photos by the writer.)

The bulk of the funding – about $5.73 million – is for improvements at three of the county parks facilities: the water park at Rolling Hills ($4,792,530); the River Terrace section of the county’s Border-to-Border (B2B) trail near Dexter ($877,740); and enhancements to the new entrance to the County Farm Park on Washtenaw Avenue (estimated $50,000).

Work at the Rolling Hills water park will dramatically change the entrance to that popular county facility, which employs about 85 workers at the peak of the summer season. Commissioners voted to award the $4,792,530 contract to Sorensen Gross Construction Services (SGCS) of Flint, which submitted the lowest of seven bids.

The commission also approved an expenditure of $267,500 to buy the Baker property in Lima Township for the county’s natural areas preservation program. The land is on the north side of Trinkle Road, between Lima Center and Fletcher Roads – about a mile to the west of the recently protected Trinkle Marsh Preserve.

Staff gave updates on a variety of other projects, including conceptual design work on a recreation center in Ypsilanti. A team of students and faculty from the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning is working on that project. Director Bob Tetens reported that a couple of different approaches are being considered: a long linear facility along the Huron River, or a more traditional box-style building. Both would incorporate the B2B trail along the building, under overhangs, with a design that allows stormwater to flow under the building.

The meeting closed with shared memories of Meri Lou Murray, a former county commissioner who was largely responsible for creating the county parks system. Murray died on July 22.

Rolling Hills Water Park

Bob Tetens, director of Washtenaw County parks & recreation, gave a report to the commission with background and a description of planned improvements at Rolling Hills Water Park, located in Ypsilanti Township. His presentation led to a recommendation to award the contract for the next round of improvements, in 2012-13, to Sorensen Gross Construction Services of Flint.

Rolling Hills Water Park Improvements: Background

The water park, which opened in 1990, is a major feature of the Rolling Hills Park. About 110,000 guests visit the water park annually. In 2002, the phase II improvement project added a “lazy river” in which one can float or tube at a leisurely pace, passing under various features that spray or dump water. Other additions included a spray/play structure suitable for those who want to get wet without being immersed in water, and a concession building. Planning for phase III improvements began in October 2011 when the parks & rec commission chose the consulting team Sidock Associates of Novi and Muskegon, and Water Technology Inc. to design that phase.

In February 2012, the consulting team presented to the commission a conceptual design that would add a 32-foot slide tower (the current slide is 15-feet high) with two body slides and a speed slide that Tetens said would provide “a thrilling ride for those willing to use it.” Other features in the design included:

  • a 4,300-square-foot bath house with areas for men, women, and families;
  • a 500-square-foot mechanical building;
  • a new 2,700-square-foot office which would be the new park headquarters (at peak season, the park has 85 staffers); and
  • a 450 car parking lot (200 more than at present).

The estimated cost of these improvements totaled $4.4 million.

On March 6, 2012, the commission authorized the consultants to prepare specifications and bid documents for phase III. After minor design revisions, the project was put out to bid through county purchasing as RFP (request for proposals) #6679 on June 15, 2012. Bids ranged from a high of $4.988 million by A. R. Brouwer Co. of Dexter, to Sorensen Gross Construction Services (SGCS) of Flint’s low bid of $4.479 million. The lowest bid from a Washtenaw County firm was O’Neal Construction’s $4.65 million bid. [.pdf of Tetens' report, which includes a table of all seven bids]

Schematic of proposed Rolling Hills entry

Schematic of proposed Rolling Hills Water Park entry.

Tetens’ written and verbal reports emphasized WCPARC’s satisfaction with the work of SGCS on several major renovation projects recently, and their current work of the spray/play area and office building at Independence Lake Park (described below). Tetens further reported that he hoped the Rolling Hills project would be done in time for opening on Memorial Day weekend in 2013.

Tetens also said the bid by SGCS provides outdoor lockers, decorative paving, landscaping, irrigation ($100,161), and a gray water recycling system ($50,000).

Deputy director Coy Vaughn showed slides to illustrate that the current entrance is imposing and not comfortable, warm or inviting, creating a “prison” feel as visitors enter and exit through barred revolving gates. [.pdf of Rolling Hills project presentation] Staff want to open up the entrance, he said, so people can see the excitement within the park before they enter. Presently, the building that houses lockers, showers, and changing rooms completely blocks the view of the water park just beyond. It has, Tetens said, a “cold industrial feel.”

Rolling Hills Water Park Improvements: WCPARC Discussion

Commissioner Janis Bobrin asked, as she watched the staff presentation, “Why did we like it so much?” – referring to the current design. Patricia Scribner, the commission’s vice president, responded, “Because it was new.”

Commissioners expressed approval for the proposed new entrance off a new road entering the park. The old entrance will be an exit only, creating clearer and more efficient traffic flow. They also liked the new color scheme, using earth tones for the building structures and blue for the roofs, which have what Tetens called “interesting angles.”

Outcome: Commissioner Bobrin moved to award the contract, totaling $4,792,530, to Sorensen Gross Construction Services. With no further discussion, the vote was unanimous in the affirmative.

Summarizing the project – and reminding the commissioners of the future at the same time – Tetens closed by saying “It will look like a new park. We need to do this every 10 years.”

Later in the meeting, the commission got an update on other improvement projects that are underway at the park. The ring road is 98% complete, and lightning damage from the July 5 storm is being repaired. Upgrading the sewage pump system – which Tetens said is the largest in the county – is complete.

At the end of the meeting, commissioner Dan Smith commented that “I took my nephews to the Rolling Hills wave pool, and they are very excited about the new slide. They said Rolling Hills is better than Disney World because the lines are shorter.”

River Terrace Trail

A new phase is being proposed in the cross-county Border-to-Border trail (B2B) for the section known as Segment D – the River Terrace Trail, between the village of Dexter and the Dexter-Huron Metropark. [.pdf of staff report]

At the commission’s July 24 meeting, deputy director Coy Vaughn showed slides to explain this next step in the project. [.pdf of presentation, including maps showing proposed location] This phase has a complex background. The River Terrace Trail proposal included a 170-foot bridge spanning the Huron River near the entrance to the Dexter-Huron Metropark. In 2005, the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) denied WCPARC’s application for a Natural Rivers Act permit to construct the bridge. The denial made construction of the D1 segment “unfeasible.”

Bob Tetens, Janis Bobrin

Bob Tetens, director of the county parks & recreation department, and Janis Bobrin, a parks & rec commissioner, at the July 24 WCPARC meeting. Bobrin also serves as the county’s water resources commissioner, but is not running for re-election this year.

In January 2006, WCPARC appealed the permit denial, and in July 2010 the appeal succeeded and the DNR issued all permits for construction of the bridge and trail project. In December 2011, WCPARC authorized a contract with Anlaan Corp. of Ferrysburg, Mich., for construction of phase 1 of the project for $1,237,230. Because the DNR permit would expire on July 29, 2012, staff worked with Anlaan to reduce the scope of that phase of the project by shifting a portion of the trail construction to a future phase (the one being presented at WCPARC’s July 24 meeting).

That first portion of phase 1 was recently completed and included all the improvements on the north side of the Huron River, the bridge, and about 80 feet of boardwalk on the south side of the river. That part of the project was done ahead of schedule and cost $15,000 less than the contract amount.

Vaughn’s proposal to the commission on July 24 was to amend the contract with Anlaan to construct the rest of phase 1: to build 650 linear feet of boardwalk and 235 linear feet of asphalt trail, plus 1,500 linear feet for a construction access road that would then be paved in the next phase of the project, at a cost of $753,811. The village of Dexter has sewer and water lines under the proposed project access drive, and protecting them would have added $36,890 to the cost. Instead of doing that, Vaughn proposed moving the access road to the location of the proposed trail, leaving an additional 3,195 linear feet of trail base to be paved in the next phase, at an added cost of $123,929. Thus the total cost of the current project would be $877,740.

Outcome: The commission unanimously approved the recommendation to amend its contract with Anlaan Corp. for the construction of phase 1B at a cost of $877,740.

County Farm Park Entrance

The county recently completed a project to improve the Malletts Creek detention area and restore the stream. The project included removal of many invasive trees and shrubs, and opened up a view of the stream and its environs from Washtenaw Avenue, creating a strong presence along one of Ann Arbor’s busiest streets. Last month, WCPARC installed an entry arch to mark the existing natural surface and gravel path leading to the main section of the park.

County Farm Park Entrance: Staff Presentation

The problem, as deputy director Coy Vaughn described it, is that the path in its present condition is not usable by wheeled vehicles that require smooth surfaces, such as road bicycles, rollerblades, and wheelchairs. He proposed paving this segment of the trail to allow for a seamless connection to the existing non-motorized path on the south side of Washtenaw Avenue. The change would improve non-motorized connectivity for more modes of transportation and recreation, enhance handicap accessibility, and draw more people into the park. The proposal also includes modest landscape work, he said.

Director Bob Tetens then described how staff could do the construction drawings, specifications, and project oversight, to avoid consultant fees. The preliminary cost estimate Tetens provided the commission showed that landscaping and restoration would cost $13,340, and construction of the path would cost $32,325. Adding a 10% contingency fund of $4,566 would bring the total cost to $50,231. [.pdf of staff report]

County Farm Park Entrance: Commission Discussion 

Janis Bobrin moved to accept the proposal. Commission president Bob Marans expressed concerns about the landscaping. Vaughn displayed slides showing the entrance before and after the proposed improvements, and Marans indicated that his concerns had been addressed.

Outcome: The commission voted unanimously to approve the proposal.

Baker Property Purchase

Bob Tetens and Coy Vaughn provided a written report and slides to support the recommendation that WCPARC purchase, for $267,500, a 70-acre parcel in Lima Township that’s now owned by the Baker family. The purchase would be funded by the county’s natural areas preservation program (NAPP). The land is on the north side of Trinkle Road, between Lima Center and Fletcher Roads. [.pdf of staff report]

WCPARC staff and the natural areas technical advisory committee – which oversees NAPP – have visited the site several times. According to the staff report, the significant natural features that make it worth preserving include: a mix of high quality upland woodlots and open meadows; very little invasive plant material; Mill Creek, which traverses the property from the northwest corner to the southeast, is well shaded, two to three feet deep, with banks that are in good condition; and varied topography with especially steep slopes along the creek. The Baker property is only a bit over a mile to the west of the recently protected Trinkle Marsh Preserve.

The staff report on the property included a description of the phase 1 environmental site assessment prepared by the Mannik & Smith Group, an environmental engineering consultant. Mannik & Smith found and verified environmental contamination, which triggered a phase 2 assessment.

At present, the site has selenium, cadmium, lead, and mercury above acceptable levels, although still relatively low. The contaminated area is a relatively small portion of the property, under 500 cubic yards. The report identifies a “debris disposal area, which includes auto parts, tires, household appliances, 55-gallon drums, metal, glass, and construction debris.” Mannik & Smith recommended a plan to remove surficial debris, remove with permitting limited sediment, restricting drinking water via institutional control, and five years of monitoring and maintenance, at a total cost of $82,500. Vaughn said that the owner would put this amount in escrow and the county would draw it down as the work was done, leaving any unspent money for the owner.

Tetens’ report to the commission stated that Bosserd Appraisal Services had valued the property, in January 2012, at $350,000, or approximately $5,000 an acre. Mannik & Smith provided a boundary survey, with a legal description, survey drawing, and corner stakes.

The staff report concluded with a recommendation that the due care plan be implemented, and that the commission authorize purchase of the Baker property for $267,500 – or $82,500 less than the appraised fair market value.

There was no substantive discussion on this issue.

Outcome: On a roll call vote, the proposal to buy the Baker property passed 7-1, with dissent by Jimmie Maggard, who did not indicate why he voted against the purchase. Barbara Bergman and Rolland Sizemore Jr. were absent.

Project & Activity Updates

Bob Tetens and Coy Vaughn gave reports about development projects and activities at the parks, the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center, and natural areas. [.pdf of written updates]

As part of the report, Tetens gave an update on a video project about the history of WCPARC, which is narrated by former county administrator Bob Guenzel, and includes shots of former county commissioner Meri Lou Murray. The documentary will be 30-45 minutes long, and will be used for special events, he said.

Project & Activity Updates: Parks

Work on the spray-and-play zone, and on the restrooms, office and concessions buildings at Independence Lake Park is on schedule. The color scheme is natural brown block with darker strips, accented with blue roofs. Commissioners expressed praised the work. Tetens said that when the new spray-and-play zone is opened, individuals will pay to use that part of the park, as they do at Rolling Hills. [.pdf of schematics and construction photos]

Schematic for Independence Lake spray-and-play project

Schematic for Independence Lake spray-and-play project.

Several new information kiosks have been installed at County Farm Park and the Meri Lou Murray (MLM) Recreation Center. Commissioners saw examples of what Tetens said was “taking our signs up to a new level.” The intent is to provide both graphics and text, he said: “These provide five times the information that our signs used to have.”

Bob Marans suggested there might be too much text, but Janice Anschuetz said she likes having more to read. Janis Bobrin said that “some people just look at the pictures, others want to read it all. It is not a question of one or the other.” Tetens said the signs had been designed by two WCPARC staff members, park planner Kira Macyda and Peter Sanderson, a former intern who’s now a seasonal employee.

Commissioners generally praised the design and information in the signs.

Tetens also described annual maintenance at MLM – the center will close during the last two weeks in August for that work. Over the last year and a half, the building envelope has been replaced. This year, the main improvement will be to resurface the track, which is the original that was installed in 1991. Its materials are now outdated, Tetens said. The new track will be more cushioned and have a much bolder color scheme.

Tetens said “Business [at the recreation center] was flat after an early spring that put people outside earlier than usual.” however, he said he was not concerned about the drop in attendance.

The pavilion expansion at Pierce Lake Golf Course is complete. Tetens said this is one of the better years for this facility, which was helped by the early spring and the shutdown of the Hudson Mills Metropark Golf Course for a few weeks, following the tornado touchdown in March. The course looks good in spite of heat and dryness, he said. He noted that “the golf industry has declined for a decade now, but we are happy with Pierce Lake.”

July 2012 financial report for Washtenaw County parks & recreation

July 2012 financial report for Washtenaw County parks & recreation facilities.

At Sharon Mills Park in Sharon Township, the bridge still needs repair; staff are considering the alternative of replacing the bridge, Tetens said. At Osborne Mill Preserve, the landscape restoration at the new parking lot is complete, and other landscaping will be done in the fall. At Parker Mill Park in Ann Arbor Township, staff have installed new information kiosks made of cedar with fieldstone base detail work underway.

The section of the Border-to-Border (B2B) trail in Ypsilanti, extending from Riverside Park across Michigan Avenue into the Water Street redevelopment area, continues to receive attention from WCPARC staff, who are assisting city of Ypsilanti staff. The current concept is for a bridge over the Huron River, perpendicular to Michigan Avenue, with the northern terminus in Riverside Park and the southern terminus to the west of Fischer Honda, a 15 E. Michigan Ave. [link to interactive map showing Border-to-Border trail]

Tetens later confirmed that Gov. Rick Snyder has signed a bill on Aug. 1 authorizing the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to award $289,400 to the city of Ypsilanti for the construction of that bridge over the river underneath Michigan Avenue. “We’re working on a better alignment that will not require going under the Michigan Avenue bridge, but will require (hopefully) a pedestrian actuated mid-block crossing of the street,” Tetens wrote in an email responding to a question from The Chronicle.

That same bill also awarded the county $2.275 million for the Arbor Vistas Preserve, which includes acquisition of 54.17 acres in Ann Arbor Township to connect existing protected areas: Ann Arbor’s Marshall Park; the University of Michigan’s Horner Woods; and WCPARC’s Goodrich Preserve.

Project & Activity Updates: Eastern County Recreation Center

WCPARC staff are continuing their work in conjunction with a team of students and faculty from the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning (TCAUP) to develop a plan for a proposed recreation center in Ypsilanti, on the west side of the Water Street redevelopment area.

Meeting to look at designs for the county recreation center in Ypsilanti

Meeting with UM students and faculty who are working on designs for the county recreation center in Ypsilanti. (Photo provided in July 24 WCPARC meeting packet.)

A working session was held at TCAUP’s Ann Arbor studio in July. Tetens reported that they are looking at a couple of different schemes: a long linear facility along the Huron River, or a more traditional box-style building. Both would incorporate the B2B trail along the building, under overhangs, with a design that allows stormwater to flow under the building.

Bob Marans said the next step would be to outline the advantages and disadvantages of each design, and weigh those to make a final decision. Community comments so far, he said, seem to show that the community does not want a “long wall” along Michigan Avenue. The team has built models that will be available at the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival, which runs from Aug. 17-19, so people can provide feedback. The team will work on a layout for the rest of site: residential, commercial, office, and possibly other uses, Marans said, and make a presentation to the entire community in early to mid September.

For more details on this project, see Chronicle coverage: “More Planning for Rec Center in Ypsilanti.”

Project & Activity Updates: Natural Areas Preservation

Several updates were given for the county’s natural areas preservation program (NAPP).

At Squiers Preserve, a contract was awarded to construct a parking lot, needed to make the park open to the public. Staff are preparing an RFP (request for proposals) to select a contractor to build a boardwalk west of the bridge over the Saline River in the Draper-Houston Meadows Preserve.

Site plan drawings for the Trinkle Marsh Preserve are in preparation. NAPP crews continue to concentrate their stewardship on removing summer invasive species such as sweet clover, spotted knapweed, and teasel.

Project & Activity Updates: Programs

Interpretive programming is in full swing for the summer. [Examples of this kind of program include natural history, birding, wildflower identification, tours of historic park facilities and more.] WCPARC staff provided 15 days of programs in three parks, three preserves, two mills, and at West Willow Community Recreation Center, Holmes Elementary summer playground, and the Washtenaw County fairgrounds.

Staff also offered three free fishing workshops, attended by 75 people, and began programming for summer day camps hosted by WCPARC at the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center, Rolling Hills, Independence Lake, and two summer playground camps in the Willow Run school district. The first week of camp provided nature programming for over 150 children.

Financial Reports

The fund balance statement shows that halfway through the fiscal year, 75% of the anticipated revenue is in: $7,054,604 of $9,469,000. Expenses “look good,” Tetens said – he reported that 36% of the budgeted amount for the year has been spent: $5,607,455 of $15,513,721. [.pdf of financial report]

There was no substantive discussion of this report.

Outcome: The commission unanimously voted to receive and file the fund balance statement.

The claims report shows total monthly expenses of $633,861 for parks functions. [.pdf of July 2012 claims report] Major expenses included $34,200 to upgrade the septic system at Rolling Hills, and payment for the bridge near Dexter at the River Terrace trail. The natural areas preservation program spent $218,904, all but $2,368 on acquiring land when the purchase of the Bloch property closed in July. [WCPARC approved the Bloch property purchase at its May 2012 meeting.]

The commission had no questions or discussion about the claims.

Outcome: The commission unanimously approved the payment of claims in the amount of $852,765.11.

Awards & Recognitions

Bob Tetens announced that WCPARC president Bob Marans had been awarded the 2012 career award from the Environmental Design Research Association. The award recognizes “a career of sustained and significant contributions to environment design research, practice, or teaching.”

Tony Reznicek

Tony Reznicek. (Photo from the WCPARC meeting packet.)

Tetens also announced that Anton “Tony” Reznicek, a member of NAPP’s technical advisory committee, had received the Michigan Botanical Club’s lifetime achievement award this spring. Tetens commented that “a walk with Tony is a must.” Janis Bobrin added, “His backyard in a modest neighborhood is incredible.”

Tetens also referred to the award that had been given to WCPARC from the National Association of Parks and Recreation Officials’ “removing barriers initiative.” [Tetens had announced the award at last month's meeting, for WCPARC's Rolling Hills accessibility project.] “I guess we’ll need to ask for a trophy room before long,” he joked.

Remembering Meri Lou Murray

The meeting had begun with a moment of silence in memory of Meri Lou Murray, who died on July 22. Near the close of the meeting, describing Murray’s methods during her long service as a county commissioner, Tetens said “she was strategic – she was not a consensus builder. She worked through sheer force of will.” She pushed hard for county parks, for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, for federal highways, and for mass transit, he said.

Tetens noted that WCPARC and other county staff members had contributed pages and pages of memories for her obituary, which Grace Shackman wrote from that material. In part, the obituary described Murray’s efforts with the county parks system:

Meri Lou will be best remembered as the founder of the County Parks system. In her first term she was the driving force in the creation of the County Parks and Recreation Commission on which she served for 24 years. Once the parks commission was established, she convinced the road commission to allow the parks commission to take over several roadside picnic sites – the very first county parks. She helped develop the first parks master plan, and then, in 1976, convinced the board to put parks financing on the ballot. The parks system has blossomed into a world-class parks system comprised of 15 parks, 22 natural preserves, and many miles of trails.

She was adept at forming coalitions across party lines and geographic entities to reach common aims. A believer in regionalism, she co-founded UATS (urban area transportation study), an intergovernmental committee to work on transportation issues including dispersing federal highway funds and was a leader of the county block of SEMCOG (South East Michigan Council of Governments). In 1996 she almost single handedly stopped the governor from taking federal road money away from local governments. She convinced members of both parties on the county commission to pass a resolution opposing this and did the same thing at SEMCOG, as well as meeting with federal officials.

Tetens told the commission that she did not want a big funeral ceremony, and had asked a group to organize a celebration of her life. After talking to Tom Murray, her husband, Tetens said the county planned to host an event at the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center at a later date.

Present: Robert Marans, president; Patricia Scribner, vice president; Nelson Meade, secretary; Janice Anschuetz, Janis Bobrin, Jimmie Maggard, Fred Veigel, Dan Smith. Also WCPARC director Bob Tetens and deputy director Coy Vaughn.

Absent: Barbara Levin Bergman, Rolland Sizemore, Jr.

Next meeting: The commission will not meet in August. The next meeting will be Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 at 7 p.m. at the parks and recreation commission administrative offices, 2230 Platt Road in Ann Arbor.

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  1. By Charlie Tsien
    September 12, 2012 at 10:42 pm | permalink

    Bob Marans:

    Quite to the contrary, many landscape and architecture fans here in Ypsi are in love with this “long wall” you mention. The use of such a descriptor demonstrates both your ignorance of design, as well as your sense of what the Ypsilanti community wants or needs.

    I’d say: place complete trust in the architects and their team. They know the alchemical relationship of structure to space far better than you or I do.

    Let’s let them put southeast Michigan on the architecture map. And let’s *not* water down the their visionary work with bureaucratic, inexpert meddling.

  2. By Charlie Tsien
    September 12, 2012 at 11:20 pm | permalink

    I misread the Marans quote. It’s myself who am ignorant.