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EPRD board to study feasibility of buildings in Buchanan Park

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By Vicky Gits

After a contentious discussion that lasted until 1 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 27, the board of directors of the Evergreen Park and Recreation District agreed to pursue a Buchanan Park improvements study as well as a new comprehensive community survey.

But the order in which the two things will proceed was left up for future discussion.

The board agreed to assign most of the responsibility for defining the scope of studies to district executive director John Skeel after he volunteered to take on the assignment.

Steve Sumner, executive director of the Center for the Arts Evergreen will work with Skeel on refining the proposal for a feasibility study and a survey. A third party will actually conduct the research and write the reports.

Neighborhood resistance

Members of The Trails, a community next to Buchanan Park, came to the meeting to object to the amount of building in the master plan.

“A majority of our residents are saying, ‘What do we need this for?’ ” said Jim Bernier.

Evergreen resident Cindy Brown, president of The Trails at Hiwan Homeowners Association, was shocked when she read the Buchanan Park master plan and realized how many buildings were planned.

“I was surprised a community with a leisurely, laid-back attitude was planning to take a beautiful parcel of land and cover it up with buildings nearly the size of a football field,” she told the Canyon Courier on Aug. 28.

“I was surprised that a lot of the development was geared to the arts. This is the parks and rec department,” Brown said when contacted by phone after the meeting.

“It’s not that I don’t like the arts, because I do,” Brown said. But she’s says the parks department has decided to take on more than the community is willing to pay for. She questioned why the board was unwilling to do a community survey with specific costs in it before going forward with a feasibility study.

“Having a pavilion on a pond south of the rec center for weddings, a snack bar and coffee shop — it’s just crazy. Where are people supposed to park? It they build a couple of lots, what’s going to happen to all the trees?”

The arts connection

Underlying Tuesday night’s proceedings was the understanding that the Center for the Arts  would be an integral part of the planning process and was prepared to contribute financially under certain circumstances.

The board struggled to reach consensus  for several hours but in the end decided it wasn’t ready to commit funds to a feasibility study without more agreement on goals.

Board members were divided over the merits of a feasibility study that included the prospects for expansion of the Buchanan Rec Center, as well as construction of a community center and arts center.

Representatives of the Center for the Arts were opposed to paying for a feasibility study that included items such as expanding the rec center.

Time-out for customer survey

“We couldn’t agree on the board level, so we pitched it to John,” said Allan Casey, president of the board, noting that Skeel said he has done at least a dozen community surveys in his career.

“We have money budgeted for both (a feasibility study and community survey), but what’s in question is the timetable and how it would be done,” Casey said. “We always envisioned it would look at all aspects of park operations, present and future. … It seems like it’s time for a customer satisfaction survey.”

There was no formal resolution, but the parties generally agreed to be guided by what’s in the approved master plan for Buchanan Park.

The group started the discussion about Buchanan Park with a couple of proposed resolutions jointly written by board  members Janet Heck Doyle and Peter Eggers. The most controversial resolution covered the feasibility of expanding Buchanan Rec Center, building a new arts center and a community center, as well as an outdoor amphitheater.

Eggers later withdrew the resolutions after a fruitless effort to amend them sufficiently for approval.

First things first

Skeel described his role in the process as focused on the master plan and the role of the community center/arts center.

“It’s the biggest and most controversial building,” he said. “Everybody needs to know what it’s going to cost. So much of what was discussed last night was premature. I am for going through the process and see what turns up.”

“If we end up building a new arts center, maybe we don’t need to expand the recreation center,” Skeel said.

“We really need to take stock of what we already have. I go through rec centers at night sometimes, and there’s nobody in there. If the community wants to do that, then that’s what we’ll do, but we don’t have those answers.”

Skeel said a needs assessment would address whether people think there are enough facilities in the community already.

Starting all over

Handing the responsibility for the feasibility and needs-assessment studies to Skeel seemed to suit Eggers.

“I’m happy John stepped up and took it upon himself to uncomplicate a situation that was getting more and more complicated as the evening went along.”  

“It’s really up to John as to how he approaches everything. I’m hoping we can develop consensus around his strategy.”

“I think essentially we are starting over,” Eggers said.

About the whole community

“The Buchanan Park Improvement Group did a good job of surveying the potential user groups but not the community at large,” Doyle said.

Doyle thinks there is a danger the Center for the Arts Evergreen may be enjoying preferential treatment by being so entwined with the park district and the discussions about a future arts center.

“That’s one of the concerns I have — there is a blurring of the line between the EPRD and one arts organization. I think it’s important that the board realize its obligations lie within the district. That doesn’t mean the it can’t partner with the group, but it’s important not to give one group undue influence or preferential treatment,” Doyle said.

Doyle insists that any study should at least address all the major potential projects rather than a few of them.

“I think the public voice needs to be heard with respect to what they would like to see happen in the whole district, including Buchanan Park.”

The next meeting of the Evergreen Park and Recreation District board is 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 23, at the Buchanan Park Recreation Center.

For the complete master plan, visit www.buchananpark.org.