With a popular Greenway trail system and 18 parks in Jefferson City, the city's Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department hopes to update its park system by adding to and expanding on amenities.
A new parks master plan has been in the works for about a year and a half. The Parks Department contracted with Kansas City firm Warner Nease Bost Architects in September 2016 to create a master plan that would lay out goals to improve the Jefferson City park system over the next 10-20 years.
The last formal Parks Department master plan was in 1952, and the most recent long-range plan for parks and recreation was part of the city's comprehensive plan update in 1996.
WNB Architects debuted the draft master plan earlier this month, with the Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Commission taking a first look at it about two weeks ago.
Parks Director Todd Spalding said the department wanted to pursue a new master plan so it could see what areas it was succeeding in and areas where it could improve. Adding amenities improves residents' and visitors' quality of life, he added.
"I think if you step back and think about our goal, it's to clearly improve quality of life and make our lives a little richer. That's what parks do, so having those new amenities, those new things, I think is what's going to do that," Spalding said. "Then you'll have all these residual effects like promoting tourism. So there's a lot of reasons improving our parks is good for our community as a whole."
Top 10 priority parks
After receiving city staff and community input, as well as conducting on-site observations and dreaming sessions — meetings where stakeholders think of long-term goals — WNB Architects and Landwork Studio, which are listed as part of the design team, created a top 10 priority park projects list that they hoped the Parks and Recreation Commission could begin this year.
During a work session last week, the commission focused heavily on suggested improvements at the 3.5-acre Community Park, which the master plan lists as the No. 1 priority. While the park is a hub for several residents, its playground is outdated, the master plan states.
Suggested changes include three spray ground play features, a large pyramid climbing structure and climbing wall, side-by-side zipline racers, interactive play sculptures, toddlers' play mounds and climbing logs, space for an outdoor amphitheater, benches, restrooms, new shelters and 50 parking spaces.
The estimated cost for all recommended changes to Community Park, at 725 Marshall St., is $2.5 million-$3 million.
Shannon Gordon, senior landscape architect with Landworks Studio, said the costs for all the suggested projects are planning estimates, so he tried to over-estimate when outlining projects.
The Parks Department has a little under $4 million in its fund balance that could go toward renovating the parks, Spalding said, and receives $500,000 annually from the half-percent capital improvement tax.
The Jefferson City Cultural Arts Foundation also fundraised money for a splash park at Community Park, raising about $50,000 as of this month.
Due to its state of disrepair and the highly populated area it serves, Community Park is the top priority, Spalding said.
"I don't think there's a close second (priority project), to be quite honest," he told the News Tribune last week. "It's in an area that is in our core area and is heavily populated — it's next to the greenway, it's next to schools, it's next to Lincoln (University), it's next to downtown — and we have done hardly anything to it in what appears to be a long, long time.
"Part of the master plan is to find out what you're doing good and what you're lacking in and use that as a road map, and it clearly shows that that area was by far the biggest gap in service."
Gordon said he has high hopes for Community Park based on the master plan suggestions.
"Community Park has the ability to impact its surroundings and it will be a draw (to the community) the way we have designed it," he said. "It's very new, modern, and it will be one of the best parks in the state."
East Miller Park
With a fire station near East Miller Park, Gordon said, the master plan calls for a large play structure "themed on the character and bravery exhibited by police, fire and first-responders." The Jefferson City Fire Department's goal is to attract a large number of children to the nearby Fire Museum, Spalding added, so having a related park element could be a tourist draw.
The plan also recommends adding a sound garden that includes musical instruments and features to the 2.5-acre East Miller Park, listed as the master plan's second top priority. This would not only encourage creative play, but downplay the noise of the nearby highway.
"There are so many ways that kids can play, from miniature beat boxes to percussion instruments," Gordon said. "The fact this park has a lot of high traffic, it can be mitigated with children's play."
The draft plan also calls for a new concrete trail, memorial plaza, community plaza, community council ring for neighbors to visit, half-court basketball court, swing set meadow and new shelters.
The total estimated cost for upgrades at East Miller Park, at 916 E. Miller St., is $2.25 million-$3 million.
The park currently offers fitness stations, horseshoe pits, picnic tables, grills, a playground and a basketball court.
Hickory Adams Park
Listed as the third priority, the 1-acre Hickory Adams Park hosts a playground, horseshoe pit and open play area.
Gordon called the park, at 503 Hickory St., a "hidden gym" for its view of the Capitol and wants to emphasize that view by adding an overlook plaza facing the Capitol.
While the department also upgraded the playground, Gordon said, it is not ADA-accessible. The plan calls for an ADA connection to the playground. It also wants to upgrade the play surface since it's "not functioning at the safety level we want to see," he said.
The plan also calls for a rentable shelter at the park.
The estimated price tag for total renovations at Hickory Adams Park is $750,000-$900,000.
To promote better and safer play, the draft plan states the playground at Park Place, at 1112 Park Ave., needs repairing and resurfacing while the basketball court surface and goal need improvements. It also calls for play feature additions and a dedicated multi-purpose turf play area.
Park Place, which is less than 1 acre total, is listed as the fourth priority in the master plan.
The estimated cost for all recommended updates is $200,000, Gordon said.
Ellis-Porter Riverside Park
The key upgrade feature listed in the draft master plan for Ellis-Porter Riverside Park, at 300 Ellis-Porter Drive, is an estimated $2.5 million community amphitheater. There currently is an amphitheater at the park, but Gordon said it is not ADA-compliant or safe. He advised the commission not to hold events at the current facility until the new one is constructed.
"I'm trying to be realistic here. It's scary there, and it's not ADA-compliant," he told commissioners after they expressed concerns for closing off the current amphitheater, adding it could be a liability. "It's not something we're trying to hide under the rug. We're addressing it. It should be a top priority."
The plan also calls for a new destination play structure that has ADA accessibility, community gardens and shelter improvements.
The 62-acre park, listed as the fifth priority in the master plan, currently has a community pool; but Gordon said since it doesn't generate revenue, it is more of "a draw to the system, not an add." To address this, a long-term goal for the park includes a hill aquatics venue that includes slides and a lazy river. The plan notes a multi-purpose field could go where the current swimming pool is.
"As part of the master plan, one of the things that kept coming up is we have average aquatics, not destination aquatics," Spalding said. "We don't have anyone who comes (to Jefferson City) necessarily for swimming, but this would bring people to our community for swimming."
Several residents suggested additional spray grounds and aquatic improvements in the community surveys. When compared to five other cities — Columbia; Concord, New Hampshire; Dover, Delaware; Olympia, Washington; and Topeka, Kansas City — Jefferson City ranked last in number of aquatic features and facilities.
The total renovation estimated cost ranges $23 million-$35 million.
One of the few aquatic features Jefferson City offers is at the 30-acre Memorial Park. The master plan notes the Memorial Park aquatic center has lap lanes, slides and a children aquatics area.
While the draft plan does not list upgrades to the facility, parks staff suggested during the work session its infrastructure be improved as there are cracks and draining issues.
One of the key features recommended for Memorial Park, at 111 Memorial Park Road, is a destination play area woven through the existing trees. It also suggested a new shelter to distinguish the park's entrance and adding pickleball court lines to the current basketball court to allow both sports.
To accomplish all of the recommended upgrades in the master plan, it would cost an estimated $3.5 million-$5 million.
The park is listed as the sixth priority in the draft master plan.
Listed as the seventh priority, the 45-acre McClung Park offers both outdoor and indoor pavilions, a barbecue facility, a playground and a play field.
The master plan suggests adding an 80-foot Capitol building viewing tower, splash pad play area and upgraded playground. It also calls for renovating the former dance hall at the park, at 930 McClung Park Drive.
Long-term goals include adding a 28-court horseshoe competition complex and two shelters.
The estimated price tag for all of the suggested changes and additions is $5 million-$7 million.
With several changes recommended for Binder Park, at 5840 Rainbow Drive, the master plan suggested only a few additions for now, including a pump track, mountain bike trail expansion and designation play area.
Long-term goals include expanding the campground and adding a cabin, tree house village, cafe and outdoor dining, lodging area and shelters.
The total suggested changes for the 687-acre park would cost $24.5 million-$30 million.
Binder Park is listed as the eighth priority in the draft master plan.
While the plan does not suggest making additions and renovations to McKay Park before June 2020, it is listed as the ninth priority.
Priority projects for the 20-acre McKay Park include trail renovations, a dog park and a boat launch. Long-term goals include a new boardwalk, rentable floating gazebo and older adult play area.
McKay Park, at 1700 Southridge Drive, currently offers a lake for fishing, playground, walking trail, basketball court and grills.
The estimated cost for the recommended changes is $2 million-$3 million.
Oak Hills Golf Center at Hough Park
Currently listed as the 10th priority, the 170-acre Hough Park is primarily known for the Oak Hills Golf Center, at 932 Ellis Blvd.
The master plan calls for a large building to house golf carts and parks department storage, as well as a tournament plaza with connection to the new storage building.
Long-term goals include renovating the driving range, clubhouse and parking lot.
Another long-term goal includes reconfiguring some of the holes. Gordon said while the court is a "great asset to the community" it is too short to host professional or college competitions.
The estimated cost for the recommended changes is $13.25 million-$15 million.
Gordon proposed a "rigorous" two-year implementation schedule for the top 10 projects, if the Parks Department had the funding readily available:
Community Park upgrades begin in March with completion in September
East Miller Park upgrades begin March with completion in April 2019
Hickory Adams Park upgrades begin June with completion in April 2019
Park Place upgrades begin June with completion in April 2019
Ellis-Porter Riverside Park upgrades begin May with completion in February 2020
Memorial Park upgrades begin October with completion in November 2019
McClung Park upgrades begin October with completion in November 2019
Binder Park upgrades begin February 2019 with completion in June 2020.
While the implementation schedule anticipated some of the work could begin this month, the Parks and Recreation Commission has not discussed which projects it plans to pursue first and still needs to consider the impact of all the recommended changes.
"As far as a move to want to do something, I think (the commission) recognizes there are a lot of needs out there that we want to do something about, but the commission hasn't had a time to sit down and go through the list and give the pros and cons," commission President Brad Bates said.
Spalding said he did not have a timeline for when projects would begin.
While the Parks Department works on these 10 projects, the plan recommends ongoing maintenance updates like improving trail connections, adding security lighting and resurfacing parking lots at multiple parks.
Other park improvements
The master plan focuses heavily on the top 10 priority parks, but there are future recommended suggestions for other parks.
At Washington Park, the plan calls the ice arena the "anchoring element of the park," adding residents said they were proud of the arena. It notes while the arena is in good condition, it is isolated and prone to flooding; the ice arena experienced two major flooding incidents in 2016.
It recommended relocating the ice arena to a different location to avoid flooding and provide more space, while also adding a second sheet of ice as it currently only has one. The vacated ice arena site could host a high school softball field.
Other recommended changes for the 57-acre Washington Park, at 1200 Washington Park Drive, included renovating Vivion Field, which the Parks Department currently is doing; adding a dog park and new high school tennis complex; and improving the greenway trail, Wears Creek and streetscape along Missouri Boulevard.
The estimated cost for all of the recommended renovations is $10 million-15 million.
North Jefferson Recreation Area
Located at 927 Fourth St., the 165-acre North Jefferson Recreation Area contains ball fields, multi-purpose practice fields, gardens, primitive camping, trails that allow access to the Katy Trail, a playground and a dog park.
While not listed in the master plan's top 10 priorities, the plan recommends consolidating all of the ball fields, expanding the master gardeners' area and adding more gardens, boat rentals, and additional recreation vehicle camping areas and dog parks.
It states the key feature of the park would be a large "Central Park" that could host large events and celebrations like musical events. It would also contain a lookout tower so residents and visitors can look out over the community.
"North Jefferson Park has the untapped potential to be the new first impression for the entire community," the plan states. "It can be the feature that inspires future residential and commercial development in the area."
The estimated price tag for all of the recommended improvements is $30 million-45 million.
To do all of the parks projects suggested in the master plan, it would cost $116.75 million-$161.9 million.
The commission most likely won't pursue all of the suggested changes in the master plan due to time and budget, Spalding said. He added the Parks Department is not asking for more than $100 million to renovate and upgrade the park system all at once, and he does not want residents to focus solely on the cost to make the suggested improvements.
"What I want people to understand is with a full master plan, it takes all of your acres of land and it dreams as big as you could possibly dream, so I don't want people to get hung up on that (amount)," Spalding said earlier this month. "I know (what) certain folks will do is they'll get hung up on that. This is just simply a time to dream and take in everybody's options and put them on a piece of paper."
The master plan suggests several funding and revenue sources, including various fees, state and federal grants, fundraising, taxes, and bonds.
After meeting with financial consultant Piper Jaffray and Company, city staff suggested the main finance option be special obligation bonds, which would require a dedicated source to pay the debt service.
A $15 million project during a 20-year period would require more than $1 million annually for the debt service, according to a city memorandum. A $20 million project would require approximately $1.4 million annually.
City staff have expressed concerns for whether the Parks Department could set aside that much money from the parks sales tax for the debt service without hurting everyday operations.
The master plan suggests the city's primary funding option be general obligation bonds, though, adding it "would likely be the best option to generate the necessary funds for a full community-wide needed overhaul of the parks system."
The plan adds the bond could be $25 million-$30 million and be paid back over 20-25 years so as to give the city quick funding to complete about $27.5 million in park projects.