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story.lead_photo.caption Jefferson City's newest park feature, the splash park, is taking shape and should be ready for use next spring. Located at Community Park off of Dunklin Street, the park will contain water features, climbing ropes, covered pavilions, a concession stand and more. Operators from Scott's Crane Service lifted and set three precast concrete sections that will house the concession stand and restrooms. On top of the building, an installer for CXT Buildings scrapes snow off the top be able to finish the necessary work. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

Improvements to one neighborhood park are in their final stages, and the Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department is hopeful it will open come next spring.

Work at Community Park, 725 Marshall St., started with a groundbreaking in May, and improvements have been steadily taking place since.

Assistant Parks Director JJ Gates said a lot of progress has been made recently.

"The contractor has been able to make pretty good strides out there in the last month, month and a half," Gates said.

In April, the Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Commission approved a construction contract with Jefferson City-based Sircal Contracting for more than $1.46 million.

What was a flat dirt plot a few months ago is now looking like a park.

The outdoor structures are close to being completed, and playground equipment like a large climbing tower and zip-lines are starting to be installed. Once that is done, the playground safety surfacing can start.

"It's starting to take some shape," Gates said.

Crews were at work Wednesday installing the pre-fabricated restrooms and a concession stand. Once that is in place, they can start with the concrete flat-work, Gates said.

There's a big component to the park that still needs to be done.

"The one thing that might be a little iffy in this kind of weather is the splash park construction, so we'll have to see what the weather holds for that," Gates said.

The splash park plumbing, in particular, is difficult to work on in the freezing temperatures and winter precipitation the area has been experiencing. Gates said they hope to keep working on the park as weather allows.

"We get a little spoiled at times with these mild winters for construction projects, but we know it can quickly come to a halt if Mother Nature wants it to," Gates said. "I'd be in a different profession if I could control the weather."

Originally, the department hoped to be done by the end of 2019, which isn't likely at this point. However, Gates said they're still hopeful the park, splash pad and all, will be open for the spring.

"We have a whole lot of expectations to meet, and people are excited about it," he said. "This is our top priority right now — to finish this park and have it open for the public and the kids as the weather warms up."

About 11,000 people live within a 1-mile radius of the park, Gates told the News Tribune in May.

"We appreciate the public's patience as we work through the Community project," Gates said. "We were hoping that one would be done this year, and it just didn't work out. We're working hard to get that one ready for spring."

Another project in the works is a Community Park sculpture series, bringing local artists' sculptures to the park.

Amy Schroeder, communications manager for the Parks Department, said they hope to call out to artists next spring.

Gates said the cost of the improvements is around $3.1 million.

As far as Jefferson City's other parks, the next to receive upgrades will be Ellis-Porter Riverside Park to the northeast and McClung Park to the south.

Ellis-Porter Riverside Park, 300 Ellis-Porter Drive, was included as the department's fifth priority in the 20-year master plan rolled out in 2018. It's now the second, Gates said.

Planned improvements at Riverside Park include the addition of a large amphitheater, new bathroom facilities and parking lot lights. Department Director Todd Spalding said the amphitheater will include fixed seating for around 2,000 with additional seating behind and hillside, grass seating farther back.

Gates said architects are working on the designs to Riverside Park, and they plan to put out construction bids on the work in January. The work could take place next summer or fall.

One early stage of the improvements may be done sooner than that. The park has three baseball fields, and Gates said they hope to make some improvements before the start of baseball season.

The department is still evaluating bids for the work and hopes to award a contract soon. The improvements will include new backstops and fencing, enlarged dugouts and electrical improvements for future scoreboards.

"It's not anything too crazy, just a face lift to the fields," Gates said. "Some things that could make the complex nicer."

A botanical garden may also come in the future at Riverside Park. Spalding said the department is in the final stages of securing contracts with a developer for the project. In October, Spalding said the botanical gardens would be built behind the existing caretaker's house at the park.

"We're close. Very close," Spalding said. "Our goal is to have something started out there this spring, some element of botanical gardens."

Spalding said they hope to make a public announcement of the contractor in a few weeks.

The budgeted cost for Ellis-Porter Riverside Park is around $3.1 million, Gates said.

To the south, McClung Park, 930 McClung Park Drive, will receive its own improvements to the indoor pavilion and outdoor patio areas.

The indoor pavilion will be renovated, with more windows facing out onto the outdoor patio to add more natural light. Doors will also be added from the indoor pavilion to a new outdoor deck. Visitors who rent the pavilion will be able to go in and out as they please and look out at the Capitol and Missouri River.

Some of the brush outside the pavilion will be cleared, and improvements will be made to the parking lot.

The estimated budget for McClung Park is around $1.3 million, Gates said.

He said bids for that work will go out after the new year.

"Hopefully by the end of 2020, we'll have three big improvements at all three parks," Gates said.

After that, he said, they are unsure which parks could receive upgrades next. Community, Ellis-Porter Riverside and McClung parks are the top priorities right now.

The 20-year master plan also included suggested improvements to East Miller, Hickory Adams, Park Place, Memorial, Binder and McKay parks.

The improvements to Community Park, Ellis-Porter Riverside Park and McClung Park are being funded by special obligation improvement bonds, not to exceed $7.5 million, which were approved by the Jefferson City Council in November.

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