This week, city workers identified their top six picks from 19 capital projects proposed to city council in August, and the picks point to affordable and healthy.
Four choices involve recreation: a track, a network of trails, and a playground in Garfield Park; a skate park; a park in Garden Heights and improvements to Vets Field.
Two involve footbridges – replacing the Seventh and Eighth Street sidewalks between Sixth and Bell Avenues; and extension of the Juniata Gap Road ” railway “, coupled with the addition of lighting along it.
Collectively, they could cost between $6.8 million and $9 million, according to a staff memo.
“We considered this as a fruit at hand”, given that many other projects discussed in August were much more expensive and involved property grabs, City Manager Omar Strohm said.
After the presentation, council members discussed recreation: changing interests, a possible survey to find out what residents want, the potential for a central sports complex with ample parking, perhaps in partnership with Logan Township; the ability to repurpose former recreational properties if deed restrictions permit; and the value of preserving these properties to neighborhoods.
A recreational facility in a central location with ample parking would be an antidote to the city’s current array of facilities, which “Seem to be Band-Aided Together,” said Councilman Jesse Ickes.
Such a sports complex “would be the way to go” said Mayor Matt Pacifico.
An investigation would help ensure that whatever the city might build would be used, Councilman Bruce Kelley said, citing shifting preferences – such as skyrocketing interest in pickleball, coupled with declining interest for tennis and the growing prevalence of travel teams for basketball, football and hockey.
“We don’t want to build something that people won’t enjoy,” Kelley said.
Logan Township has room the city lacks in Lakemont and Strawberry Hills, and a partnership with that municipality could work, Councilor Dave Butterbaugh said.
And the city parks? asked Councilman Ron Beatty. Is the city limited in what it can do with it, because of the act restrictions?
If not, maybe some of them could be expanded and returned “to the tax base”, Butterbaugh said.
The situation with each would likely depend on the individual act, an official said.
“We have to be careful about how much leisure we push out of town,” said Councilman Dave Ellis.
“A beautiful new and shiny object” can materialize in the canton, “but we also have the responsibility in each neighborhood to have a certain level of leisure”, said Ellis.
In the past, most people walked to games in city parks, Butterbaugh said.
But most of those who come to the city’s leisure facilities are now driving or being driven, and there is often a shortage of parking spaces – as well as safety issues with children being dropped off, a- he declared.
“I don’t think anyone wants to take recreation out of the neighborhood,” Kelley said. “But leisure needs have changed.”
This has been influenced by demographic changes like fewer stay-at-home moms, he said.
Staff will continue to commission a survey, check for facility consolidation potential, while paying attention to parking issues, and perform a check for deed restrictions on recreational properties, Strohm said.
Council members are expected to present their own flagship projects soon.
“Stay tuned,” Strohm said.