Fitness park planning approved

Planning for a fitness park in the City of Warren has been given the blessing of city council.

At their regular meeting Monday night, in the absence of council member Sam Harvey, council heard a general proposal on the concept of a fitness park in the city.

Following the presentation, council passed a motion to, “approve the concept of the development of a fitness park on a city park,” and an amendment to that motion specifying the location of the facility to be DeFrees Park for the purposes of planning.

Council member John Lewis was the sole dissenting vote on the measure, noting he didn’t feel council had enough information to sanction even planning efforts.

They did not formally approve moving forward with installation of a fitness park at DeFrees. Only planning was approved. The group behind the proposal will need to return to council with further information before any final approval will be offered.

The proposal was presented in a Powerpoint presentation from a coalition of local employees as part of their efforts in conjunction with “Make a Difference Day 2013”, which is in October.

The fitness park concept originated with Whirley DrinkWorks!, but has since garnered support from PNC Bank, the Community Foundation of Warren County, Northwest Savings Bank, McKissock, the Warren County YMCA, Superior Tire and Rubber Corp., the Warren County Council on Tourism, and the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry (WCCBI) through a “community mobilization initiative”.

According to Heidi Ekey, who spoke for the group, they came to council seeking guidance and official sanction for the project before moving any further into facility planning.

The group originally presented the concept; which would include installation of American with Disabilities Act compliant, stainless steel exercise equipment at a city park for free public use; to the city’s parks and recreation committee in April. The committee approved recommending the project to council on July 8.

The group’s presentation centered on Clemons Park, but Ekey noted a location for the facility was part of the guidance they were seeking from the city.

Following the presentation outlining the concept for a facility, council had numerous questions.

Council member James Zavinski noted he had some concerns, “We’re trying to get rid of some parks in the city for one thing… Is the City of Warren going to be responsible for all liabilities?… On mowing, will maintenance be taken care of it?… I think it’s a good idea, but there’s some questions.”

Ekey noted that as far as maintenance, the city would continue to mow, but that poured rubber pathways included in the plan could be mowed over.

“We’re thinking it will actually be less for you to mow,” Ekey said, referring to the fact the city already has to maintain the parks and pathways and equipment would cover some of the current grassy area.

She also said liability would fall under the city’s policy, according to the equipment manufacturer.

Lewis voiced concerns.

“It’s generally the city’s position not to compete with existing businesses,” Lewis said, noting that while the YMCA backs the project, there is a fitness facility in town.

Ekey differentiated the project concept from the fitness facility saying the park would not require any sort of payment for use by the public, “regardless of their financial situation.”

Future upkeep and attention to the facility was a concern.

Council member Howard Ferguson asked if the group was planning on forming a board of directors or a long-term entity, as their 501(c)3 non-profit status is being provided as a special project under WCCBI.

“We’re hoping to do this through community mobilization,” Ekey said. “We’re seeing how it goes. If that was something we needed to do later on we would.”

Ferguson said he asked, “Just so we know there’s some sort of a group shepherding this through the future”

“It could be a one-off project,” Lewis noted.

Mayor Mark Phillips noted if handled as a “one-off” project, “The maintenance would be with us.”

Phillips asked if the manufacturer had installed any similar parks the group could contact for feedback on how their projects worked out.

The manufacturer has installed similar parks near Philadelphia and in Florida.

“I would ask, perhaps, if there were some contact to be made with the people who operate those parks,” Phillips said.

Cost was also discussed.

Ekey cited an estimate of $85,000 for equipment and poured rubber pathways, which would be paid for through grant funds and donations.

Phillips suggested the group look into establishing an additional fund to ensure future maintenance could be paid for.

“I think it’s feasible for us to establish that additional fund,” Ekey said.

Council also took issue with the group’s proposed location at Clemons Park.

“DeFrees off of 4th Ave. is probably one of your better bets,” Zavinski said noting it had amenities such as restrooms and lighting.

“My opinion would be this would be much better served at Betts or DeFrees,” Lewis agreed. “The direction the city is heading… is to see it (Clemons) returned (to the family it was purchased from)… because it’s costing us to maintain it.”

Council Vice-President Maurice Cashman suggested another alternative.

“Morck Park, with the bike/hike trail… in my view, would be a much better option,” Cashman said. “If not Morck Park, my view would be we’re better off with DeFrees.”

“We did look at Morck Park,” Ekey noted. “Our proposal is very flexible. We’re kind of looking for your guidance on it.”

Chairman of the parks and recreation commission Dennis Crandall spoke about the decision on Clemons.

“We talked about many of the same issues,” Crandall noted. “We’re trying to help them move ahead… to get it moving and see which park. One of the reasons we chose Clemons is, we’ve been trying to get rid of it for 7 years now.”

Eventually, council decided to approve planning for DeFrees Park.