EDITOR’S NOTE. This is fourth in a series of stories covering the public forum held last week to discuss pros and cons of a proposed recreation center.
What a wonderful place it would be
A proposed $39.9 million recreation center in Harrison will have something for everyone, it has been said. Facilities would be used to host a variety of sports tournaments that will bring visitors to town resulting in a positive economic impact for the area.
A public forum was held by the Transparency in Government Group (TIGG) of Boone County and the Moving Harrison Forward organization to discuss the proposal with the public. Harrison voters will be going to the polls for the special election in November.
The recreation center plans as proposed includes four sport courts for activities like volleyball, basketball and pickleball. It will have walking tracks, an indoor aquatic center, an aquatic splash park and pools having water slides, a lazy river and a zero-entry area. Funds would also allow for the baseball and softball facilities to be updated with more concession stands, covered grandstands and additional parking. The city's trail system would also be extended. The facilities would be promoted for use for tournaments and other large sporting events.
Dr. Angela Olsen, a private citizen invited to be a panelist, asked if facilities were being used for these events would they be closed to center members? She also echoed concerns on maintaining the facilities and cost for using them.
Luke Feighert, Harrison's chief financial officer and representing Moving Harrison Forward on the panel, said he participates as a parent in the local community swimming team for youths. He said when swim meets come to town the city pool is closed for that day or for several hours. There aren't many meets held in Harrison during the season, he pointed out.
He acknowledged that the club is reaching out to the Harrison School District to field a high school swim team and a dive team. Those extracurricular activities would have to be sanctioned by the Arkansas Activities Association.
Even if the new facilities were used for team practices the pool would be large enough to accommodate them in one area while the rest would be open to members to use.
He said organizations are already being charged a fee for using the city's facilities. Those fees are paid individually or through teams or leagues.
Other income would be realized through concession sales.
A woman asked if alcohol will be allowed on the premises or be sold at private functions at concerts or other events held at the center?
"We never planned for that one. We should have," commented Mayor Jerry Jackson. He passed the question on to Feighert.
Feighert said that would be up to council approval, but that option is something that would have to be discussed at another open forum.
City Parks and Recreation director Chuck Eddington said most of the youth programs' participants come from outside of Harrison. He estimated that the youth baseball and softball programs have almost 500 kids. There are about 80 in volleyball. The flag football program attracts about 150. Then there are adult leagues that average about 50 participants per league.
Eddington said he reports to the Parks and Recreation Commission, the city council and the mayor. The department operates on a budget approved by the commission.
Most of the money in that budget is appropriated by the city council from general operating revenues. Earlier it was noted that an established sales tax generates funds for the City Advertising and Tourism Promotion Commission to help it bring tournaments and visitors to the city. But 25% percent of that tax's proceeds is given to the city's Parks and Recreation Department. If the new 0.25% sales tax is approved the money generated by it would be used for the maintenance and operation of all city recreation facilities.
Eddington explained how the parks department functions currently, and how it has a five-year strategic plan to replace assets. He gave a brief report on what has been accomplished to date.
In 2015, two sports complex fields were rebuilt and two air conditioner units were replaced at the youth center.
In 2016, some fencing was replaced in a couple of the outfields at the Sports Complex and a new office was added at the Youth Center for the sports program coordinator. The swimming pool liner also had to be replaced.
In 2017, a new restroom and storage facility was built at the Sports Complex. The gym floor and walls were repainted and the trim was replaced at the Youth Center. New safety pads were purchased and mounted on the walls. Two light poles at a field were replaced due to safety issues. Four press boxes were replaced at the Sports Complex. The infields were resurfaced and two soccer fields were renovated.
In 2018 two golf carts were purchase to transport elderly and handicapped spectators between fields during events. All of the restroom stalls at the swimming pool were replaced. New carpeting was installed in areas of the youth center. New signs were put up at the Youth Center. The concession stand at the soccer complex got a new roof and air conditioning.
This year, an Americans with Disabilities Act compliant pathway was built at one of the fields. New swimming pool lounge chairs were purchased. The department also bought new playground equipment that will replace old equipment in the city parks. Two practice boards were also put in at the tennis courts in response to public requests.
Some of that was in the budget and some wasn't, Eddington said. Plumbing issues at the swimming pool shower rooms recently came to light just as the season was ending. That will be a priority over the winter as the pool season goes from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Eddington said if the new center is built, the current swimming pool would be removed and the area would be used for other facilities connected with the Youth Center.
Eddington said the city park facilities are currently open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. If the new center is built its hours will be expanded to 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. That will require two shifts for staffing.
Meeting rooms and classrooms will be utilized for after school youth programs and summer recreation programs.
Chris Head, a city council member, voiced his appreciation for the job Eddington does with the amount of money he receives. He cares about the kids and juggles resources to make sure they have what they need, Head said of Eddington.
Head said everybody needs to realize that high water raises all boats. He said supporting the project would help everyone have a better quality of life and gain opportunities. "I think it has come to a point in America as a whole where we try to sort out who are the haves and have nots. We need to come together and do something positive for our community."
That raised an applause from the audience.
Hot on the trail
Wade Phillips, chief operations officer for the city, looks after roads and infrastructure. He would be responsible for overseeing contracts for the center if voters approve it.
The project includes an extension of the city Parks and Recreation Department's trail system that would be extended from Lake Harrison north to the city's Sports Complex and the new recreation center.
Phillips said he has long advocated for trails in the city. People support it until costs are mentioned. The trail at Lake Harrison is heavily used. Harrison is falling behind other cities in Northwest Arkansas where trails are concerned.
Trails don't create jobs, but they create activity in places where usually there is not, he said.
The trail extension will run along Dry Jordan, Phillips said. The 10-feet-wide concrete trail would be open to non-motorized traffic. It will be lighted for safety. The distance will be about three miles.
The trail would not be in the creek itself, but would be parallel to it going under bridges and at pedestrian protected crossings, he noted. He said other items planned include trailheads for various points of access, water fountains, resting benches and picnic areas. It needs to be a true multipurpose trail with accessibility in mind.
Phillips said since the project was proposed the question has been raised why the city doesn't purchase the property formally occupied by the Harrison School District's junior high school.
The buildings cannot be salvaged. Over 75% of the site is in the flood plain. Another part of it is in a floodway leaving only about seven usable acres. The project calls for a minimum of 15 acres, he explained.
But there are parks facilities built along the creek, it was pointed out.
But an aquatics center and community center are not like soccer fields or a simple cement block building that can be easily cleaned up after a flood, Phillips said.
Phillips was asked why Harrison does not receive as many grants from foundations and other sources like other towns. One reason is that Harrison doesn't put up money to meet matching requirements, he explained. "That's a soapbox issue, for me."
The architectural and engineering firm for the project is ETC Engineers & Architects of Little Rock.
Phillips said the time needed to complete the project's final construction drawings and blueprints would take between nine months to a year, if the referendums pass. Public input would be sought on some of the details. Actual construction time would take about two years. The project budget includes a contingency fund. The project will be controlled so that costs falls within the amount the bonds will cover. "We can't issue more bonds and we can't extend the tax," he said.