Even though his first official day on the job was two days later, Scott Thomas, Covington’s new parks and recreation director, decided to stop by the city’s booth at Covington Days last month.
“I am so excited to get started there,” Thomas said. “I’m looking forward to getting going, meeting people and hearing what they want.”
Thomas, a Kenmore native, fills a position that was vacant for more than year before he officially reported for duty July 28.
“One of the reasons” he attended Covington Days, the three-day community festival, “is because that’s a good place to gather information about what the community wants,” he said. “What I need to do when I start is really learn what are the communities, what are the priorities.”
He comes from the city of Burien, where he spent 10 years as a parks planner. That experience will be key as he works with the City Council, city officials and the public to help Covington build a parks system and bring recreation opportunities back online.
In Burien, he was the first parks planner when that city’s parks department was created. He helped develop the parks system, “and that’s what I am going to do in Covington,” Thomas said.
Covington cut much of its parks and recreation budget after the failure of a metropolitan parks district ballot measure in November 2006. It would have created a special taxing district that would have collected money to help bolster the city’s budget and pay for development of the city’s parks and recreation programs.
With the enactment of a utility tax six months ago, Covington has the money for Thomas’ salary, as well as money to get back into offering parks and recreation.
Thomas said his Covington assignment is “a great chance to grow in my field. Moving from the planner position to the director position is a nice way to tie in the park plans, which is the place, and the recreation, which is the people who come to the place and enjoy it as well as cultural arts. All kinds of arts come together in those public places. I’ll be in a better position to integrate all of those elements.”
In addition to his work experience, Thomas has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in public administration, both from the University of Washington.
He said he is looking forward to taking the different puzzle pieces of cultural services, recreation, aquatics and parks and putting them together to create the big picture.
“That’s what I’m going to enjoy personally,” Thomas said. “The challenge, I think, is going to be learning the community’s needs, then matching those with the resources that are available.”
One of the first things Thomas will dive right into will be planning for the 180th Avuenue Southeast/Southeast 240th Street site across the street from Tahoma High School. City officials would like to see it become a recreation site, possibly home to ball fields, among other potential uses.
Covington has $700,000 in state money for the project, as well as $70,000 in grant money from King County that has been put to use to develop a master plan for the site. That process has begun with a design consulting firm hired, and Thomas said he’ll be learning about the project right away and finding out what the council and residents want it to look like.
It’s just one of the many things he’s already got on his calendar. “Right up at the top,” he said, is a meeting with the parks and recreation director for Maple Valley.
With Maple Valley planning ball fields on its Summit Pit site just south of Four Corners, with other potential park facilities in the pipeline, Thomas said it’ll be important to make sure the neighboring cities are communicating so they don’t “waste resources building unnecessary facilities.”
“Maple Valley can do certain things and maybe Covington can do certain things, and perhaps we can team up on things,” Thomas said. “In the long run, I am sure there will be collaboration in Covington, Maple Valley and Black Diamond to ensure that everyone has good access to recreation programs.”
While it will be important for Thomas to work on acquiring and developing park sites, which he said is relatively straightforward for him, there’s more to the job.
“There were recreation programs in Covington before,” he said. “Covington does need and is really going to benefit from (additional) recreation programs. The pool (Covington Aquatic Center) needs to be well cared for. That’s an asset that needs to be maintained and protected and enhanced over time.”
He’s also thinking about where people can play pickup basketball or take classes, do pottery or discuss current events, the kinds of things Thomas said happens in community parks facilities.
“There’s one room in City Hall, and we’re probably going to be looking to partner with the schools to offer recreation at their facilities in the short term,” he said.
The trick will be balancing everyone’s needs and wants with the reality of what Covington can afford, as well as managing people’s expectations.
“There’s a relatively small amount of money and a pent-up demand,” Thomas said. “Everything’s been on hold. Some things take a while to plan, find the money and design and build. Some times slow and steady wins the race. That will be challenging for this community that has this pent up desire and demand.”
Staff writer Kris Hill can be reached at (425) 432-1209 (extension 5054) and email@example.com