Planning underway for Covington Community Park’s next phase

Phase two of Covington Community Park is taking shape and the city is pursuing funding options with the goal to break ground in 2015.

Phase two of Covington Community Park is taking shape and the city is pursuing funding options with the goal to break ground in 2015.

Phase one of the park, which is located across the street from Tahoma High School in Covington, was completed in 2012. That phase includes a grass soccer field, a trail over a mile long, two restrooms, an open meadow, forest and parking lot.

“Now we are focused on designing phase two,” Angie Feser, parks planner for the city, said.

The city is working with a consultant to design and price the project. On the list of projects for phase two currently are a covered performance stage with a grass seating area, completing the trail system, a tennis court, outdoor fitness equipment, one small and one large picnic shelter, a parking and drop off area, as well as all the related infrastructure.

The list had also included some other items like an educational center that would be an outdoor classroom, a fully accessible playground, a second tennis court and a disc golf course.

The educational center and playground have been moved to phase three of the project due to cost, Feser said, and the second tennis court and disc golf course were nixed.

Feser said that the second tennis court was scrapped because of the impact on large trees that would have needed to be cut down.

“The feedback we received was to eliminate the tennis court in lieu of preserving the historic trees there,” Feser said.

As for the disc golf course, Feser said that it was determined that there isn’t enough space on the site, but that the city still wants to build a course eventually.

“We still want to have one in the city’s park system but there were too many limitations,” Feser said.

The price tag for phase two is still being worked on.

The original estimated construction cost was $2.8 million, according to Feser, but she noted the plans have changed some since then.

“We have since added one more large picnic shelter, the council is exploring running utilities to the education center in preparation for phase three and we’ve eliminated the second tennis court, so those changes will be incorporated into that number,” Feser said.

As for funding, the city has accepted a $2.1 million grant from the state legislature and is seeking an additional $500,000 from the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office.

“We are exploring other funding options that are out there,” Feser said. “There is the possibility of the city providing some of that from their funds as well. That presentation is coming to council the end of May.”

The City Council voted 5-1 to accept the $2.1 million grant back in February, with Council members Joseph Cimaomo, Marlla Mhoon, Jim Scott, Wayne Snoey and Mayor Margaret Harto voting in favor and Councilman Mark Lanza voting against.

In an email on Tuesday morning, Lanza explained that he voted no because of the funding gap for the project and concern about the city’s many financial needs.

“Although this grant covers two-thirds of the cost, it still leaves over $1 million in construction costs unaccounted for,” Lanza wrote. “We are relying on future grants, a risky process at best, to fund the rest of phase two construction.”

Lanza referenced the city’s many needs, including financial challenges with the street fund as well as park maintenance and the city’s need for more police officers. He also mentioned the city’s Town Center project, which Lanza wrote, “is going to take a substantial financial investment of public tax dollars.”

In addition, Lanza pointed out that the city has also agreed to two new expenditures: co-funding a school resource officer for Kentwood High School and taking on providing youth athletics.

“By accepting this grant, if we are unsuccessful in securing grants to cover the remaining one-third cost of the construction and are unable to move forward with phase two, any grant funds spent will have to be returned,” Lanza wrote. “As of March 31 we will have already spent $180,000 on phase two. Being fiscally conservative, in my mind, there was just too much of a risk to accept this grant. I know that there are many that disagree with me but I believe that safety, transportation and economic development at this time have a higher priority, and any excess funds we have should be put towards them.”

Feser said that the grant from the state legislature is available to the city until June of 2017, but that if the city can show the state they are making progress on the project, the city could request an extension.

Ultimately, the park is planned to have three construction phases, with the third including a synthetic turf field, concessions area and entry plaza. That project is still quite a ways out and is without a timeline at this point, Feser said.

“We know that is going to cost significantly more than these other phases and would probably require a bond or levy to support that development,” Feser said.