Liberty Park

The draft of a master plan for the Mansfield City Parks system calls for $14.7 million in improvements at the 25-acre Liberty Park (above), including a new $8 million aquatic facility. 

MANSFIELD -- A draft of the long-awaited Mansfield City Parks master plan has a $29 million total price tag, including an $8 million aquatic facility at Liberty Park, $792,000 for a new playground at Sterkel Park and a $150,000 skatepark at Prospect Park.

The plan, developed by EMH&T, a Columbus-based company that has designed development and public works projects since 1926, was released Tuesday via email by Mark Abrams, the city's parks and recreation department manager.

The company began work on the $58,000 plan in 2017, according to Abrams, who noted Wednesday the timing of the plan's release is not good. All of the city's parks are temporarily closed during the COVID-19 pandemic and Mansfield finances are likely going to take a beating due to business closures and layoffs related to the outbreak.

Finance Director Linn Steward told City Council Thursday she anticipates at least a 20-percent reduction in revenue, which is largely based on income taxes.

"It's going to be like everything else. It's going to depend on how long things stay the same and how long it takes the economy to come back," Abrams said. "We will do what we can, but right now everyone is worried about their jobs and their health.

"There is some low-hanging fruit in there that we can pick and work on ... some of the smaller projects."

The parks manager said he didn't know when City Council would discuss the plan, a 78-page document. Council is meeting in "virtual" session until further notice and Abrams said discussing the document would be "difficult in a Zoom meeting."

Mayor Tim Theaker said his administration must work through COVID-19 issues before analyzing the parks plan.

"It would be premature to comment on the plan and how we are going to move forward without getting a greater grasp on the impact on our income tax, PRIDE tax, safety forces tax, general fund and any federal or state assistance," Theaker said.

Mansfield City Council 4th Ward representative Alomar Davenport, a member of the parks committee, said now is not the time to move forward on the plan and that council has not discussed it.

"Until we have a better understanding of the impact COVID-19 has on our economy, this plan unfortunately will have to be placed on the back burner.," Davenport said.

EMH&T's work on the plan includes a survey of city residents last fall, a public meeting in June 2019 and an analysis of Mansfield's 30 current parks completed last fall. EMH&T also gained input from the city's parks and recreation staff, as well as Mayor Tim Theaker and members of city council.

In the plan, EMH&T stressed the budget report is preliminary, i.e. not based on completed engineering documents, and should not be considered as a complete estimate of construction costs. The plan has also not been discussed during any council meeting or committee session.

The firm said costs could be reduced by scaling back some proposed projects, using city employees to do smaller portions of the construction and purchasing items directly, such as fencing, furnishings, trees, landscaping and small shelters.

The cost estimate does not include suggested work in Central Park, according to Abrams.

"EMH&T suggested that we do a separate plan for Central. Some of the suggestions for Central had to do with two-way street and redoing sidewalks, some of which is outside the Parks Department budget," Abrams said.

The plan calls for the city to turn over 11 of its 30 parks, primarily one to three acres in size, to the Richland County Land Bank while making improvements at all of the remaining 19 parks.  The largest park to be donated to the Land Bank is Hamilton, at just over 20 acres.

"The primary purpose of this report is to provide the City of Mansfield with a community-based description of its current parks and recreation issues, identified needs and realistic recommendations," the plan said, while not offering a timeline for projects to be completed.

Mansfield's Parks & Recreation Department operates on an annual budget of $816,000, all of it derived from the PRIDE income tax levy, first approved by voters in 2013. It generates about $3.7 million annually, with 50 percent going to the police and fire departments, 22 percent to parks and recreation, 20 percent to building demolition and eight percent to lighting.

Mansfield's parks system was closed for four years when the the city went into state-ordered fiscal emergency in 2009, emerging in 2014.

Approximately 47 people attended the public meeting, during which there was "general agreement" that providing a skatepark would be a "great amenity" in the city, which would keep people from going to other cities and towns. A "concrete bowl" style was preferred over superficial metal or wood surface structures. Benefits would include helping to keep young people out of trouble and allowing for skating away from streets and private property.

A skatepark in Maple Lake Park was discussed by Abrams and City Council in 2019, though the idea was shelved July 30 while the master plan was developed.

Some residents during the meeting also indicated that Mansfield's north end has been neglected in terms of park development and improvements.

Those responding to the survey, which was mailed out to residents in utility bills, were city residents (about 95 percent), those who lived here more than 21 years (almost 80 percent), childless (about 70 percent), and older citizens (55 percent over age 55).

Primary findings from the community survey showed:

-- Almost 90 percent "strongly agreed" or "agreed" that park facilities make Mansfield a more livable community.

-- Almost 69 percent rated the number of Mansfield parks as "excellent" or "good," though 51 percent rated the maintenance and attractiveness of the parks as "poor."

-- Top park planning strategies identified were to enhance or beautify existing parks (87 percent) or increase safety and security in the parks (86 percent). The third most-selected strategy was to create more scenic/natural open space areas (60 percent).

-- Residents chose South Park and North Lake Park in terms of parks that best satisfy their needs and ranked the closed Linden Pool, Middle Park and John Todd Park as least favorable.

-- Almost two-thirds of residents ranked playgrounds and play equipment as only "fair" or "poor."

-- The majority of those participating in the survey chose "disagree" when asked if the physical condition and maintenance of the parks was adequate.

-- More than 60 percent of respondents said they drove to the city's parks, compared to walking or bicycling.

-- About 80 percent said the city's lone pool at Liberty Park doesn't meet the needs of the community. More than 70 percent said "go big!" when asked how to improve the pool situation. Almost 80 percent said keeping a community pool open is important to the community

The plan divides the parks into larger community parks and smaller neighborhood parks. Individual park recommendations were: (including acreage and estimated cost per park):

Neighborhood parks

Betzstone Park (0.37 acres, $0)  -- Maintain in its current state until transferred to Richland County Land Bank.

Buckeye Park (2.58 acres, $0) -- Maintain in its current state until transferred to Richland County Land Bank.

Burton Park (3.18 acres, $681,152) -- Make improvements to parking and dedicate lots for specific uses in the lower area; improve parking efficiency for the pavilion in the upper area; provide new playground equipment; plant a wildflower meadow; resurface the basketball court and consider conversion to two half-courts; improve the tennis courts; add pickleball courts; add picnic shelter to accommodate pickleball and upgraded playground.

Central Park (2 acres, no price estimate) -- "Central Park is worthy of a more detailed masterplan which engages the local business community," the report said. It then said to use decorative pavement along Park Avenue and at intersections to promote traffic calming; upgrade Park Avenue to a more pedestrian-friendly zone in materiality for larger community events while maintaining vehicular circulation; expand Central Park into community and commercial spaces through the creative use of materials, landscaping and site-furnishing upgrades; incorporate the park into downtown redevelopment opportunities and future streetscape enhancement plans; use space to promote park activities, programming and historically significant events; evaluate the benefits of returning streets to two-way traffic similar to the Mulberry Street conversion and planned Diamond Street conversion. 

Deer Park (5.5 acres, $422,961) -- relocate shelter and provide family restrooms; improve the trailhead connection to the Richland B&O Trail and the Richland County Land Conservancy property; create a picnic area; make parking lot improvements.

Dewey and Vine Park (1.68 acres, $0) -- Maintain in its current state until transferred to Richland County Land Bank.

Dickson Park (5 acres, $155,870) -- Mowing reductions along the wooded area; consolidate and upgrade playground equipment and provide appropriate fall protection; provide an ADA-accessible route from the sidewalk; provide opportunities for butterfly or pollinator gardens.

Fox Glen Park (34.97 acres, $381,516) -- Provide parking lot improvements along Straub Road; enhance on-site neighborhood connections with paved trail; provide secondary, multi-purpose nature trail improvements; provide a trail map to help walkers and hikers navigate designated trails; increase maintenance efforts regarding downed trees, branches that block trails and repair trail erosion; provide park signage.

Hamilton Park (20.55 acres, $0) -- Maintain in its current state until transferred to Richland County Land Bank.

Harvard Park (3.12 acres, $0) -- Maintain in its current state until transferred to Richland County Land Bank.

Johns Park

The draft of a master plan for the Mansfield City Parks system calls for $861,880 in improvements at Johns Park, including a renovation and possible expansion of the pavilion.

Johns Park (4.86 acres, $861,880) -- Renovate and potentially expand the pavilion; use the pavilion as a winter farmer's market alternative; consider other uses for pavilion, including child care, elderly programs, after-school programs, homework assistance, etc.; create a safe parking lot; improve basketball courts and restrooms; add a picnic shelter near basketball court; reserve parking around for pavilion for ADA-spaces only; provide year-round rentals at pavilion; consolidate and upgrade playground equipment and provide appropriate protection; provide better connectivity to the neighborhood with safety crosswalks; replace sidewalks where needed.

Julia Underhill Park (1.29 acres, $0) -- Maintain in its current state until transferred to Richland County Land Bank.

King Street Park (2.97 acres, $716,818) -- Provide better connectivity to the neighborhood with safety crosswalks; consolidate and upgrade playground equipment and provide appropriate fall protection; reconstruct the picnic shelter and provide restrooms; maintain on-street parking; add multi-use path; provide multiple basketball courts; provide multi-purpose field; remove and/or improve internal sidewalks.

Linden Pool (3.05 acres, $0) -- Maintain in its current state until transferred to Richland County Land Bank.

Linden Woods Park (2.24 acres, $0) -- Maintain in its current state until transferred to Richland County Land Bank.

Maple Lake Park (1.19 acres, $1,292,568) -- Provide better connectivity to the neighborhood with safety crosswalks; consolidate and upgrade playground equipment and provide appropriate fall protection; develop an inclusive playground; replace existing shelter with small shelter; provide area for shade and bleachers at tennis courts; provide physical separation between tennis courts and Oakwood Drive; construct safe off-street parking lots; upgrade basketball courts; construct pickleball courts; develop as the south anchor of north-south linear park connection to the Richland B&O Trail.

Newman Street Park (0.06 acres, $0) -- Maintain in its current state until transferred to Richland County Land Bank.

Optimist Park (1.22 acres, $181,760) -- Mowing reduction along the wooded area; consolidate and upgrade playground equipment and provide appropriate fall protection; provide an ADA-accessible route from Carol Lane; provide opportunities for butterfly or pollinator gardens; continue to allow access to existing nature trails cut in by local neighborhood residents.

Prospect Park

The draft of a master plan for the Mansfield City Parks system calls for $1 million in improvements at Prospect Park, including a $150,000 skatepark.

Prospect Park (2.50 acres, $1,075,996) -- Develop skatepark within this park; improve existing parking lot and provide additional parking if necessary; demo the existing pavilion building and shelter; replace all deteriorated sidewalks and add additional pedestrian connections; provide picnic shelter with restrooms adjacent to the playground; consolidate and upgrade playground equipment and add appropriate fall protection; make appropriate neighborhood pedestrian connections and improve crosswalks at all intersections; provide general open space for neighborhood activities and general play.

Redwood Park (1.38 acres, $346,240) -- Provide a picnic shelter adjacent to the playground; consolidate and upgrade playground equipment and add appropriate fall protection; make appropriate neighborhood pedestrian connections; provide general open space for neighborhood activities and general play; provide seating and swings for adults; provide security lighting.

Ritters Run Park (1.54 acres, $0) -- Maintain in its current state until transferred to Richland County Land Bank.

Sherman Estate Park (0.15 acres, $0) -- Maintain in its current state until transferred to Richland County Land Bank.

Community Parks

Brushwood Park (21.65 acres, $470,675) -- Verify future easement and potential access points; provide neighborhood connections where appropriate; prepare an internal ADA accessible path system to accomodate future access to the natural environment and boardwalks; provide boardwalks for group outings, interpretative programming, observation of nature and ADA accessibility; seek partnership opportunities with the local business community and/or manufacturing companies; maintain the open space in an 'off-line' status until significant improvements can be made; continue to limit access along Brushwood Drive to prevent vandalism, trash dumping and deviant behavior.

Cyclops Field (15.86 acres, $1,051,266) -- Make parking lot improvements; dedicate a single point of entry/exit; add safe turning lanes southbound and northbound to Main Street/Ohio 13; provide a circular multi-use trail system; upgrade all playground equipment; provide batting cages; add an additional picnic shelter; upgrade the press box; relocate Hamilton Park light fixtures; limit all vehicle traffic to only city-maintenance vehicles within internal field areas; improve drainage; verify ownership discrepancies; consider corporate  partnership, such as the Warren Rupp Co.; maintain clear access to the Ashland Railway Yard.

John Todd Park (21.71 acres, $791,740) -- Provide opportunity for pollinator gardens to support local butterfly habitat; encourage interpretative and educational opportunities around old-growth trees; consolidate and upgrade playground equipment; develop the lower area as a nature preserve, supporting current habitats and "Botany Blitz" programs; maintain current maintenance schedule for existing baseball field and basketball court; allow baseball field to be used for multi-use sports.

Liberty Park (25.37 acres, $14,759,987) -- Develop the northern third of the park as a seven-plus acre outdoor aquatic facility and consider a splash pad as an alternative; redevelop the vehicular drive as a single point of entry with a turn-around; repair the existing vehicle bridge; develop the hillside as an outdoor amphitheater and sledding hill; relocate the flag memorial; consolidate and upgrade playground equipment and provide appropriate fall protection; develop the old "Duck House" area as a nature-based playscape; upgrade, drege and renovate the pond, pond edge and dam; renovate the southeast pavilion and maintenance building and upgrade its associated parking; renovate basketball courts; provide additional picnic shelters; provide an internal dedicated looped path system.

Middle Park (23 acres, $1,142,211) -- Continue pedestrian-only access; convert the asphalt road to trail system focused on pedestrian connectivity; develop as a central anchor of north/south linear park connection to the B&O Trail; provide east-west neighborhood connections where feasible; add flashing pedestrian crossing signals at West Fourth Street and Park Avenue; renovate the picnic shelter and upgrade the picnic area; repair the bridge connection to the proposed picnic area; redevelop the sledding hill that previously existed; consider a nature-based playscape or nature-play trail.

North Lake Park (20.05 acres, $2,622,260) -- Remove all vehicle traffic circulation from around the pond and transition to pedestrian-only access; close Rae and Helen avenues to through traffic; provide a new parking lot at the Rowland Avenue park entrance; provide pedestrian access to the lake's island; naturalize the pond edge; replace picnic shelters around the pond; remove eastern bridge condition by configuring the pond edge; develop park as the north anchor of the north/south linear park connection to the Richland B&O Trail; develop a Ninja Warrior course behind the pavilion.

South Park (15 acres, $418,318) -- Add signalized pedestrian crossings at Park Avenue and Maple Street to provide safe neighborhood connectivity; convert the lower asphalt road to trail system focused on pedestrian connectivity to the north and south; South Park will develop as a central anchor of north/south linear park connection to the Richland B&O Trail; provide safe east-west neighborhood connections where feasible; maintain blockhouse,log cabin, blacksmith shop and other significant historic structures; relocate maintenance facility to a more efficient location.

Sterkel Park (83.49 acres, $2,247,700) -- Implement the existing Sterkel Park master plan; provide a park-wide neighborhood connectivity plan; make connections to other community services; provide opportunity for pollinator gardens to support local butterfly habitat; encourage interpretive and educational opportunities; provide more shelters with some to include restrooms; consolidate and upgrade playground equipment and provide adequate fall protection.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"