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Drafting five-year master plan is no walk in the park

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Looking to the future: Residents look over ideas for the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department's five-year master plan at a meeting Wednesday at the Patricia Elmore Center. (Maribeth Vaughn/Daily Reporter)
Looking to the future: Residents look over ideas for the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department's five-year master plan at a meeting Wednesday at the Patricia Elmore Center. (Maribeth Vaughn/Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — The dreamers and the realists alike shared their ideas for the future of Greenfield’s parks Wednesday.

A public hearing for the five-year master plan was held at the Patricia Elmore Center, and if the event proved anything, it’s that consultant Clark Ketchum has his work cut out for him in compiling a new five-year master plan for the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department.

Proposed ideas ranged from a new community center with an indoor pool to simply maintaining the property and equipment already on hand.

“There was good conversation, and I know I got a lot out of it,” said Ellen Kuker, director of the parks department. “There’s a whole lot of stuff on our wish list; it will be interesting to see how it comes back and is prioritized.”

Ketchum, Greenfield’s parks director from 1985 to 2005, has been hired as a consultant to update the master plan. He spoke of his experiences with the department to a small crowd that raised some ideas of its own.

Some wanted a new pool; others agreed kid-friendly water features would suffice as a cheaper alternative.

Some – like Chris Knox and Mary Ann Walker – wanted a year-round facility for adult water aerobics. They had enjoyed programs at Greenfield-Central High School before the parks department discontinued them for lack of interest.

Several said the city should work with the schools and use their facilities more. Taxpayers pay for school grounds, so it makes sense for the city to partner with the schools as opposed to building new facilities, they said.

The problem with using the G-CHS pool, Kuker said, is that many complained that the school’s water was too cold for water aerobics.

There were also some concerns about Brandywine Park. There should be more storage sheds for equipment, some said; others said families playing soccer have overtaken parking from those who want to play softball.

One possible solution is to develop a new sports park near the Greenfield Central Junior High school.

When Greenfield-Central’s building projects were ongoing a few years ago, Kuker explained, the city swapped Mary Moore Park for property near the new junior high school with the intent of building new baseball and softball diamonds there. But Kuker said she doesn’t know how the project would be funded.

“That (idea) still has a pulse – it’s not very strong, but it still has a pulse,” she said.

An updated master plan is a requirement of local parks departments seeking grants from the state. While some pricey ideas may be listed in the plan, they may never come to fruition.

And money always seems to be the sticking point: While the group wanted more connections to trails and a new community building, nobody was in favor of the city borrowing money through a bond.

“I don’t think the people of Greenfield are ready for a bond for parks and recreation,” Mayor Dick Pasco said. “As we recover from the economy and see more growth, maybe that would happen.”

A $3.5 million bond was pitched in 2005 to build a new park with water slides, a zero-depth children’s pool and a lazy river. While the city council narrowly approved it, former Mayor Rodney Fleming vetoed it, saying the city couldn’t afford the project.

Still, Ketchum said the 40-year-old Riley Pool has maintenance problems and is losing money as more people go to water park-type facilities in other cities.

Pasco said this once again may not be the time to borrow money for parks facilities because the city is on the verge of issuing $10 million in bonds to reroute Potts Ditch through downtown Greenfield.

Even if the department were to simply maintain what it currently has, it will cost plenty of money. Ketchum reported that resurfacing basketball courts in Riley Park could cost up to $20,000, for example. New playground equipment there could cost $73,000.

New nature equipment at Beckenholdt Park would come at a cost of roughly $50,000. A new so-called “pocket park” – a nook at the Pennsy Trail for tykes to play in – could total more than $31,000.

Wednesday’s meeting was the final installment of a series of opportunities for the public to weigh in on the parks plan. Questionnaires were sent to 3,000 homes earlier this year, and 170 responses came in. Tuesday, Ketchum met with 12 key stakeholders in the community – from business leaders to elected officials – to gain more ideas for the master plan.

All of the public feedback will be compiled in the plan. Kuker said she hopes it will be completed by October or November.

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