Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (May 21, 2013): The meeting featured a briefing on a project to install rain gardens at Arbor Oaks Park, part of a broader effort to address drainage and flooding problems in the Bryant neighborhood in southeast Ann Arbor.
Jerry Hancock, the city’s stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator, described the project, which is being paid for out of the city’s stormwater utility fund – not the parks and recreation budget. It will involve regrading the perimeter of the park in the fall, then putting in native plants next spring. Soil excavated to create the rain gardens will be used to elevate the park’s central lawn area, which often has standing water following heavy rains. The work will be done prior to improvements planned for the park’s playground next year.
Later in the meeting, commissioners voted to recommend awarding a contract for roof replacement at the Mack indoor pool, located within the Ann Arbor Open school near the corner of Miller and Brooks. The recommendation is to select Pranam GlobalTech Inc., which put in the low bid of $193,000. A 10% construction contingency brings the project’s budget to $212,300, with a portion of that amount to be paid for by the public schools.
Also recommended was using $8,280 from the public market fund to upgrade a surface parking lot – known as the “sand lot” – on the Fourth Avenue side of the farmers market. The paving is viewed as a short-term solution, pending longer-term improvements expected at the market in a few years.
Commissioners also elected Bob Galardi as chair of PAC’s budget & finance committee. He replaces Tim Doyle as committee chair, following the end of Doyle’s term on PAC earlier this month. Jen Geer – Doyle’s replacement on PAC – was confirmed by the city council the previous evening but did not attend PAC’s May 21 meeting. Geer has worked with Galardi and councilmember Christopher Taylor – an ex-officio member of PAC – in another capacity, in the performing arts. Most recently, she was executive producer for the Ann Arbor in Concert production of Ragtime, performed at Michigan Theater on May 18. Both Taylor and Galardi were lead performers in that show.
Updates during PAC’s May 21 meeting covered a range of topics, including news that bids for construction of the new skatepark came in a little higher than anticipated. Parks staff and skatepark designer Wally Hollyday will be reviewing the bids to see what options are available. Parks and recreation manager Colin Smith reported that at PAC’s June 18 meeting, commissioners will be presented with a resolution to award a construction contract, as well as an agreement between the city and the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark related to operating the skatepark.
Other updates from Smith included the fact that parks staff is gearing up for Memorial Day weekend, with the opening of the city’s outdoor pools. He also highlighted the completed renovations of ball fields at Veterans Memorial Park, West Park and Southeast Area Park, and improvements made at Liberty Plaza. In addition to removing some bushes there, he said, “we also removed all sorts of things that were in the bushes, which are no longer there – and I’m glad they’re not.”
Other brief reports were given regarding work of PAC’s dog park and downtown park subcommittees, and public forums for the North Main-Huron River task force. Public commentary focused on input from the Library Green Conservancy, which is advocating for a park or public space atop the city’s Library Lane parking structure.
Arbor Oaks Rain Garden
Jerry Hancock, the city’s stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator, was on hand to brief commissioners about a project to build rain gardens in Arbor Oaks Park. The park is located in the Bryant neighborhood, near the Bryant/Pattengill elementary schools east of Stone School Road and north of Ellsworth. The park is near the city’s Bryant Community Center, which is operated by the nonprofit Community Action Network (CAN) under contract with the city.
Hancock said he got involved with the neighborhood in 2007, when CAN invited city staff to come and talk with residents about drainage problems in that area. [For some background on this issue, see Chronicle coverage: "Bryant Neighbors Dig into Drainage" and "Water Main Project Set for Bryant Area."]
Houses in the neighborhood are mostly built on clay with crawl spaces. There’s very little topography for water to drain, Hancock said, so water tends to pool under the houses.
University of Michigan students got involved too, he noted. They surveyed the neighborhood about problems with drainage and flooding. The results revealed certain areas where the problems were clustered, including the area around Arbor Oaks Park. Most of the homes that are located there reported flooding on their land adjacent to the park. [UM student Mark Zheng produced a 7-minute video on these issues that's posted on YouTube: "Bryant Drainage and Flooding Remediation – Taming the Water."]
The students came up with a concept plan about how to solve some of the problems through a variety of approaches. CAN has done a lot of work in the area, Hancock said – for example, uncovering catch basins that were covered with two or three feet of soil. CAN also got a grant from Washtenaw County to regrade some of the back yards and install storm sewers.
The area around the park, Hancock said, seemed to lend itself to putting in rain gardens, and to lower the grade a little to accommodate the drainage from adjacent properties. For the past few years, the city has partnered with Washtenaw County’s office of the water resources commissioner to do projects funded by the state’s revolving loan fund. These low-interest loans are used to fund stormwater management projects. For “green” projects, the state also offers a 50% loan forgiveness program. “So we have been chasing this money more aggressively than most communities,” Hancock said.
Residents had reported that the lawn area in the center of the park stays wet too long after a storm, and isn’t useable for much of the year. So in addition to lowering the grade around the park’s perimeter for the rain gardens, the soil from that regrading can be used to raise the grade in the center lawn area, to make it more useable, Hancock said.
After bidding out the project, the city hired InSite Design to do design work for $53,000, subcontracting with Anderson Engineering to do the survey work. Erie Construction, which did five other large rain gardens for the city last summer, had the low bid of $158,000 for building the rain gardens. Residents are aware of the project, he said, and so far the city hasn’t received any complaints about the plans.
Construction would start the day after Labor Day, Hancock said. Access through the park to the school will be maintained during construction. The regrading will be done this fall, with plantings done next spring. It’s expected that the work will be finished in early June of 2014. The contractor will be responsible for maintenance on the rain gardens for one year.
Arbor Oaks Rain Garden: Commission Discussion
Alan Jackson asked about the funding source. Jerry Hancock replied that it would be funded from the city’s stormwater fund, not from the parks and recreation budget.
Jackson also wondered what the city’s liability is for flooding and drainage problems in people’s homes. Hancock replied that the drainage issues in that neighborhood are primarily on private property. In this case, the city has the opportunity to help the neighborhood. “It’s not necessarily our responsibility, but we have the funding mechanism and capability to do it, so we’re just trying to help this community out,” he said.
In response to another question from Jackson, Hancock said that the majority of the rain garden-related work will take place around the park’s perimeter in lawn areas, and won’t affect the playground area and basketball court. No structures will be removed and no sidewalks will be relocated. A few trees will be relocated, and additional trees will be planted.
Because of the regrading, the rain gardens will accept water from surrounding properties, Hancock explained. The root structures of native plants in the rain gardens are 1-3 feet deep and break up the soil so that water infiltration can occur more easily. There would only be ponding water for a very short period after a rainfall, he said, before it infiltrates. The area also has catch basins as part of its existing stormwater management system.
Christopher Taylor said it’s his recollection that maintenance periods are typically longer than one year. Some contracts have been up to three years, Hancock replied. But because of the funding constraints of using the state revolving loan fund, the contract had to be set up this way.
Taylor also noted that there’s been some concern about the park’s utilization. He asked Hancock to talk about outreach efforts, and about how the project might improve the park’s usability. Regarding outreach, Hancock reported that CAN holds monthly meetings for residents. A couple of years ago, the city planned to do road repairs and water main replacement in the neighborhood. City staff attended meetings to explain the work, and based on feedback, additional elements were added to the project. The city got a county grant to do some additional work, using fiber-optic cameras on private storm sewers to find out why water isn’t draining. That’s when they discovered catch basins that were buried in back yards, among other things.
The usability of the park’s center area has been cited by residents in the past, Hancock said, and this rain garden project is a good opportunity to improve that situation. It also helps the project’s budget, he said, because it eliminates the expense of hauling off soil from the site.
Most of the other rain gardens in the city have been built in areas where the soils are more porous, Hancock noted. In the Bryant neighborhood, the soil is poorer, with more clay, so the project will include bringing in topsoil. He added that the city is also willing to tackle the project because of its success with native plants and rain gardens in other areas. Staff are confident that it will work in locations with less porous soil, too, like Arbor Oaks.
Julie Grand confirmed with Hancock that efforts have been made to reach all residents who live adjacent to the park. CAN has sent out notices at various points in the overall project so far, Hancock said. Parks and recreation manager Colin Smith said he thought that notices regarding construction should come directly from the city and county, rather than CAN. He wanted to make sure the mailing list is complete.
Grand said that once people understand what’s happening, they’ll be excited. It’s just the shock of seeing workers show up that might be an issue, she said.
Grand also asked how this project fits with plans for giving the Arbor Oaks Park playground a significant overhaul. Smith replied that the playground project will begin in 2014, after the rain garden is completed.
Outcome: This was not a voting item.
Farmers Market Parking
Plans for an upgrade to a surface parking lot at the Ann Arbor farmers market was on PAC’s May 21 agenda for consideration. The work would be paid for with $8,280 from the market fund balance.
Known as the “sand lot,” it’s located on the Fourth Avenue side of the market, where a house was demolished several years ago. Jeff Straw, deputy manager of parks and recreation, said it has been used as a makeshift area for vendors, but has deteriorated over time.
The Ann Arbor public market advisory commission had recommended the work and appropriation at its April 18, 2013 meeting. According to a staff memo, the work would include “saw cutting and stripping the asphalt, grading the existing aggregate, and adding 3 inches of asphalt mix.” It’s a short-term approach intended to make the lot more useable until longer-term improvements at the market are determined.
The project is already underway so that it can be completed before the market’s busy season. Because of that, it will be paid for initially out of proceeds from the parks maintenance and capital improvement millage, to be reimbursed from the market fund balance. The total market fund balance as of Feb. 28, 2013 was $684,145.
The public market – located in Kerrytown, north of Catherine between Fourth and Fifth avenues – is part of the city’s parks and recreation unit, but operates as an enterprise fund. That means the intent is for the operation to be self-sufficient, without support from the city’s general fund. The market manager is Sarah DeWitt.
Farmers Market Parking: Commission Discussion
Alan Jackson asked about the materials that would be used. Jeff Straw confirmed that the lot would be paved with asphalt. Parks and recreation manager Colin Smith noted that although the lot is known informally as the “sand lot,” it’s actually built from a variety of materials, including asphalt that’s “in various states of decomposition.” To call it a sand lot is somewhat misleading, he added. “It’s not some place where you’d be playing volleyball, let’s put it that way.”
Christopher Taylor asked whether any consideration was given to using a porous surface. Straw replied that this is viewed as a 2-4 year solution, so from a cost perspective, it made more sense not to use more expensive porous pavement. The entire market area will be considered for improvements in a few years.
Jackson wondered what ideas are being considered for the broader market improvements. Straw listed several possibilities, including additional enclosures that could be used during the winter, as well as a gazebo-type building, more seating, and a way to create better flow for customers and vendors.
Outcome: PAC unanimously recommended approval of the project. It will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.
New Roof at Mack Pool
On PAC’s May 21 agenda was a resolution regarding roof replacement for the city of Ann Arbor’s Mack indoor pool, located within the Ann Arbor Open school near the corner of Miller and Brooks. Staff had recommended awarding a contract to Pranam GlobalTech Inc. for $193,000 to cover the roof replacement and painting refurbishment. A 10% construction contingency brings the project’s budget to $212,300.
Pranam provided the lowest of two bids. The other bidder was Wm. Molnar Roofing Co. Inc., which bid $271,319 for the work. Pranam was previously selected to replace the roof at Veterans Memorial Park Ice Arena. The contract for that project was approved by the city council at its May 20, 2013 meeting.
According to parks staff, the existing roof from the early 1990s was expected to last just 15 years. There are leaks and rusted steel lintels and joists, which need to be replaced. The project also includes removing rust and painting the pool ceiling and joists.
Funding for the project is available from two sources: (1) $186,088 from the fund balance of the parks maintenance and capital improvements millage; and (2) $26,212 from the Ann Arbor Public Schools, which pays annually into a capital facilities escrow account earmarked for Mack Pool.
Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, described the timeframe for the project as relatively tight. Because Mack Pool is jointly used by AAPS and the parks system, the work needs to be completed this summer, while school is out of session. The timing is intended to avoid a “complete kerfuffle” in the fall, he said. The pool is not open during the summer months.
Smith also highlighted the fact that AAPS will be contributing to pay for the project. A few years ago when the city considered closing Mack Pool, a city task force was formed to explore options. There had been a lot of discussion about how the schools could contribute to operating expenses and future capital expenses, Smith said. As a result, AAPS is making annual payments into a capital escrow fund to be spent on projects like this. The schools have paid about $13,000 for each of the past two years, so this project will be using that revenue as part of its funding source.
New Roof at Mack Pool: Commission Discussion
Graydon Krapohl asked how many weeks the project would take. Jeff Straw, deputy manager for parks and recreation, estimated the work would take 6-8 weeks to complete, depending on weather.
Ingrid Ault questioned part of the resolution stating that eight votes were required: Did that refer to PAC or the city council? [Only seven PAC members were present at the May 21 meeting.] Smith confirmed that the eight-vote requirement related to the city council.
Outcome: PAC unanimously recommended awarding the Mack Pool roof replacement contract to Pranam GlobalTech. It will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.
Galardi Chosen as Budget Chair
Tim Doyle, whose term ended on May 17, had served as chair of PAC’s budget & finance committee. On May 21, PAC chair Julie Grand nominated Bob Galardi to replace Doyle in that role. Doyle had not sought reappointment to PAC.
Galardi has served on that committee since soon after being appointed to PAC in July of 2012. His term as committee chair will run until PAC’s September meeting, when the commission elects all officers.
Jen Geer – Doyle’s replacement on PAC – was confirmed by the city council the previous evening but did not attend PAC’s May 21 meeting. Grand said she’d called Geer in the morning to report that the council had acted, but Geer was not able to attend on such short notice.
Geer has worked with Galardi and councilmember Christopher Taylor – an ex-officio member of PAC – in another capacity, in the performing arts. Most recently, she was executive producer for the Ann Arbor in Concert production of Ragtime, performed at Michigan Theater on May 18. Both Taylor and Galardi were lead singers/actors in that show. Geer is also on the board of the Burns Park Players, a nonprofit in which Taylor and Galardi are also involved.
In nominating Galardi, Grand said she hoped the work wouldn’t be too strenuous, because the city’s budget for the coming fiscal year – beginning July 1 – had just been set. She confirmed with parks and recreation manager Colin Smith that in a mid-term election of this kind, PAC’s bylaws stipulate that a two-thirds majority approval is needed – or at least five votes.
Outcome: Galardi was unanimously elected chair of PAC’s budget & finance committee.
Communications & Commentary
There were several opportunities for communications from staff or commissioners during the April 16 meeting, as well as time for public commentary.
Communications & Commentary: Manager’s Report
Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, provided several updates. He noted that the city’s outdoor pools are opening on Memorial Day weekend, which is traditionally the kick-off date for the summer season. Staff is being trained and everything is on track for the opening, he said.
The newly renovated softball fields are being completed on time and games are expected to start on May 31. He suggested that commissioners check out the fields at Veterans Memorial Park, West Park and Southeast Area Park, saying that the difference is like “night and day.”
The farmers market is now open on Wednesdays for the season, he noted, and the Wednesday night market will resume on June 5.
Last week, the city received bids for construction of the skatepark at the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park. The bids came in a little higher than anticipated, Smith said, so they’ll be reviewing the bids to see what options are available. At PAC’s June 18 meeting, Smith said, the commission will be presented with a resolution to award the construction contract, as well as an agreement between the city and the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, related to operating the skatepark. Smith said he’s been working with Trevor Staples of FAAS on the agreement. He characterized it as quite simple, compared to the original memorandum of intent.
Work is underway at the Gallup canoe livery, which will re-open on May 25. Construction started about six weeks ago, Smith said, but will be put on hold from Memorial Day weekend until after Labor Day. “You can certainly see a change – it looks really nice,” he said.
Summer day camp numbers are higher than they’ve been for several years, Smith reported, adding that it is encouraging news. Also, the Ann Arbor senior center was recently awarded a $4,000 grant from the Ann Arbor Kiwanis for a cultural arts & education lecture series.
Smith also highlighted the May 18 Adopt-A-Park program kickoff, which was well-attended, as well as work at Liberty Plaza as a part of the downtown Ann Arbor Blooms Day event. He said First Martin, which owns the building adjacent to Liberty Plaza, has been a great partner in maintaining and sprucing up the plaza. Smith said in addition to removing some bushes, “we also removed all sorts of things that were in the bushes, which are no longer there and I’m glad they’re not.”
Communications & Commentary: City Council Update
Christopher Taylor is one of two city councilmembers who serve as ex-officio non-voting members of PAC. He reported that on the previous night – May 20, 2013 – the council had passed the city’s budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1. He noted that the amendments made to the budget resulted in an extra $22,977 coming to the parks and recreation budget, because of the “parks fairness” resolution. “So your job is slightly easier,” he said.
By policy, the general fund allocations to parks and recreation must not suffer any decrease beyond what other areas in the general fund do. So amendments to the other parts of the budget can have implications for adherence to this policy. At the end of all the amendments, financial services staff provided the council with an adjustment that needed to be made to the parks budget as an additional budget amendment, in order to comply with the policy.
Taylor also noted that the council confirmed the appointment of Jen Geer to PAC.
Communications & Commentary: Dog Park
Karen Levin reported that the dog park subcommittee met recently and went to look at possible sites for a new dog park – at Veterans Memorial Park, Wurster Park and Buhr Park. The next meeting is set for May 31, when they’ll talk about these options as well as a survey for the public to give feedback.
By way of background, two locations for a new centrally-located dog park were explored at West Park, but ultimately rejected because of protests from nearby residents as well as the New Hope Baptist Church, which is located across the street from the park.
More recently, at their May 14, 2013 meeting, the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commissioners mentioned Ann Arbor’s difficulty in finding a new dog park location. In that context, county parks commissioners discussed their desire to add another off-leash dog park in addition to Swift Run, which the county operates in partnership with the city of Ann Arbor. Some commissioners want to include a water element where dogs could play. Jan Anschuetz put it this way: “We’ve done so much to provide water recreation for people – now let’s do it for the dogs.”
Communications & Commentary: North Main-Huron River Task Force
Julie Grand reported that the city’s North Main-Huron River Vision task force would hold a public forum the following night, on May 22, to present some initial ideas and get feedback from residents about possible changes along that corridor.
[About 75 people attended that meeting, which was held at the Ann Arbor Community Center. Grand was among the task force members who made a presentation to the gathering.]
A similar public forum will be held on Wednesday, May 29 at city hall, 301 E. Huron, from 5-7 p.m. The task force then will incorporate the feedback into recommendations that will be presented to the community on Wednesday, June 12, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Community Center, 625 N. Main.
After that, the task force will meet again to finalize their recommendations – on Wednesday, June 19 from 5-7 p.m. at the NEW Center, 1100 N. Main. The final recommendations will be sent to the city council for consideration.
Communications & Commentary: Library Green
During public commentary at PAC’s May 21 meeting, Gwen Nystuen, a former park commissioner, spoke on behalf of the Library Green Conservancy. Referring to PAC’s downtown park subcommittee, she said the conservancy members realize how difficult the subcommittee’s work is and they want to help in any way they can. Last July, “on I think the hottest day of the year,” she joked, the conservancy sponsored the Imagine A Park event. It included a temporary patch of grass, a solar fountain, free lemonade and ice water, food from nearby restaurants, musicians, and a chess table. Earthen Jar in particular was helpful providing water, she said. “You wouldn’t believe, would you, that in a $55 million structure, there’s not a faucet on top of that garage.”
Nystuen reported that people attending the event generated a list of ideas for things that you could do if a park were in place at that location. The ideas were gathered from 154 surveys that included a checklist of possible activities, she said. The top five responses were:
- See water flowing or get a drink of water (115 responses)
- Safe place for children to play and parents to meet (113 responses)
- Gardens (107 responses)
- Picnic space (99 responses)
- Public art (98 responses)
Library Green members don’t want to say what should be in this urban park, Nystuen said, but they do think that the Library Lane site is the most central location. At the least, she noted, there should be a drinking fountain there. She wanted PAC to know that the Library Green is continuing to gather information, and that they appreciated the work that PAC was doing regarding downtown parks.
Communications & Commentary: Downtown Park Subcommittee
Ingrid Ault, chair of PAC’s downtown park subcommittee, reported that committee members have been meeting with various groups to get input on the issue of downtown parks. She noted that information being gathered by the committee is posted on its website.
[In recent weeks, the committee has met with representatives of the Library Green Conservancy; with Ann Arbor District Library director Josie Parker and AADL board president Prue Rosenthal; and with members of the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy, including Joe O'Neal, Alice Ralph and Jonathan Bulkley. PAC member Bob Galardi is president of the greenway conservancy's board.]
Ault noted that during the committee’s most recent meeting, on May 14, the group had gone on a walking tour of downtown parks, plazas and other relevant areas. They looked at places that were considered successful public gathering spaces, as well as city-owned sites that are part of the Connecting William Street study.
[The tour, which The Chronicle attended, included the second-floor green roof at city hall – which is accessible to the public and includes picnic tables – as well as Sculpture Plaza at Fourth & Catherine. Also visited were the five city-owned parcels that were the focus of Connecting William Street: the Kline lot (on the east side of Ashley, north of William); the lot next to Palio restaurant (northeast corner of Main & William); the ground floor of the Fourth & William parking structure; the former YMCA lot (on William between Fourth and Fifth); and the top of the Library Lane underground parking garage on South Fifth, north of the downtown library.]
The committee’s next meeting is on Tuesday, May 28 at 5 p.m. in the south conference room of city hall, 301 E. Huron. These meetings are open to the public.
Present: Ingrid Ault, Tim Berla, Bob Galardi, Julie Grand, Alan Jackson, Graydon Krapohl, Karen Levin, and councilmembers Mike Anglin and Christopher Taylor (ex-officio). Also Colin Smith, city parks and recreation manager.
Absent: Missy Stults.
Next PAC meeting: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at 4 p.m. in the city hall second-floor council chambers, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. PAC’s land acquisition committee meets on Tuesday, June 4 at 4 p.m. [Check Chronicle event listing to confirm date]
Next downtown park subcommittee meeting: Tuesday, May 28 from 5-6:30 p.m. at city hall’s first floor south conference room. More information about that group is on the subcommittee’s website.
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