New Priorities Outlined In Parks And Rec Master Plan

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The need for a new public pool, accessible playgrounds and a new location for soccer fields were major topics of discussion during a town hall meeting unveiling the city of Athens’ Arts, Parks and Recreation master plan on Thursday evening.

According to Athens City Planner Paul Logue, the planning process began in 2012. The city partnered with Ohio University professor Anita James and her graduate communications class to help garner feedback from the Athens community regarding recreation in the city.

One of the key findings in the master plan was that most city residents are satisfied with existing services. Logue said that the “arts” portion of the city department is unique, as many communities only have a parks and recreation department. He said that Athenians hold the arts in high regard.

Logue said that many residents expressed an interest in seeing more public art incorporated around the city, such as inside the Athens Community Center. He added that accessibility is another priority for residents.

Athens Arts, Parks and Recreation Director Rich Campitelli and Assistant Director Andrew Chiki spoke about some of the specific recommendations proposed by members of the community and the Arts, Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee.

The topic that was most discussed was the need for a new city pool. The current pool on East State Street was built in 1971 and is near the end of its useful life, said Chiki. He said that he and city staff cross their fingers each May in hopes that the pool will operate properly for the season.

Many people expressed interest in replacing the outdoor pool with an indoor facility that could be utilized year-round for classes and therapeutic use. Chiki and Campitelli emphasized that the city will take the public’s desires into consideration when the time comes to design the new facility, but noted that it will depend on what citizens are willing to pay for.

Former mayor Ric Abel, who served as chairman of the Arts, Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, said that the pool could be funded by a new recreation income tax levy. He said the city’s current recreation levy will expire in 2015 when the Athens Community Center bonds are paid off. The community center was opened in 2000.

Campitelli said a new pool would have an incline to enter the pool instead of steps in order to make it accessible to all. Many said they’d rather see more of an aquatic center than a standard swimming pool. Campitelli said that the city of Nelsonville’s aquatic center cost $2.2 million to build and it’s one-third of the size of Athens’ current pool. He said he hasn’t heard back from the city of Marietta to discuss how much their facility cost to build.

But Campitelli agreed that an aquatic center would be beneficial for younger children while teens could spend time in the deeper end of the pool. He said that recent additions to the city pool, such as the climbing wall and slide, could be removed and used at a new pool.

Campitelli said he’d like to see a new pool be constructed while the current pool is operational. He predicted a new pool would take 16 to 18 months to build. He said one option would be to build a new pool where the Bicentennial Park is, behind the current pool. Another would be to build the pool where the East State Street Dog Park is, behind the Holiday Inn Express.

It was also suggested in the master plan to relocate the department’s maintenance garage, which is currently located in a former OU Airport hangar in front of the community center, to West State Street. It was recommended that the hangar be demolished and replaced with landscaping.

Another recommendation was to install restrooms at Sells Park and expand parking. Campitelli said the city just received a NatureWorks grant to build an accessible trail from the parking area to the pond at the park.

An updated, accessible playground was recommended for Highland Park. The current playground equipment at that location was purchased in 1986.

For the West State Street Park, it was recommended to add basketball, volleyball and tennis courts.

Campitelli said the city may also pursue a collaboration with Ohio University to relocate its driving range and use the area for the city’s soccer fields. He said the city currently leases property along the Hocking River next to Walmart for soccer leagues. The land is in the floodway, making it difficult to grow turf. He said heavy spring rain has also closed the fields in prior years.

The city’s most utilized park is the Southside Park on Dairy Lane, which now has an accessible playground with a rubberized surface below. It’s suggested that similar play areas be added to all city parks. Basketball and volleyball courts, as well as a community garden, were suggested for the park, too.

The city’s public arts facility ARTS/West recently had renovations to its performance space, but the facility is still in need of accessibility improvements. The master plan recommends handicapped-accessible restrooms and a stair lift.

The possibility of a new outdoor pavilion and amphitheater was also suggested.

“Such a facility would be used for special events including live music and theater performances, weddings, graduations, cookouts, banquets and cruise-ins,” the plan states. “Roofing for such a structure should include solar panels to contribute towards the city’s green initiatives.”

Campetilli and Chiki also discussed the need for more maintenance employees. The department currently has two full-time employees — along with five seasonal workers — who are responsible for mowing 150 acres, emptying nearly 80 trashcans and cleaning all the park restrooms.

“The current staffing levels for upkeep and maintenance are deficient,” the plan states. “All capital improvements must come with the acknowledgement that additional staffing is needed in order to fulfill routine maintenance, safety inspections, and ongoing upkeep of park areas and facilities.”

The entire Athens Arts, Parks and Recreation master plan can be viewed on the city’s website,