Skate park design

A proposal to build a new skate park at Maple Lake Park like this one has been shelved for now and will be incorporated into a master plan for the overall city park system that may be done by the end of the year.

MANSFIELD -- A proposal to build a new skate park at Maple Lake Park has been shelved, and will be incorporated into a master plan for the overall city park system that may be done by the end of the year.

Parks and Recreation Manager Mark Abrams said Tuesday he has asked that legislation authorizing the estimated $135,000-$150,000 for the skate park be pulled from the agenda for City Council's next meeting on Aug. 6.

"It was my decision," Abrams said. "We will wait until we can complete the master plan for the parks and incorporate it into that plan. The political climate is just not right at this time (to pursue it)."

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Mark Abrams, the city's parks and recreation department manager, answers questions this summer from the public about a proposal to build a skate park and replace playground equipment at Mansfield's Maple Lake Park.

Mayor Tim Theaker, who championed the idea as a way to provide more opportunities for young people, said Tuesday, "I am a little disappointed we are not moving forward at this time.

"(But) it makes sense to continue with the master plan and work with Richland Foundation and everyone to finance a park."

Abrams first pitched the idea in early June for $200,000 as part of improvements at Maple Lake Park, including $55,000 for new playground equipment for the park on the city's west side.

Funds for the project were to come from the PRIDE tax, first approved by voters in 2014 and renewed in 2017. 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.

The tax generates about $816,000 annually for a parks system that was closed for four years when the City of Mansfield went into state-ordered fiscal emergency. The city has 30 parks.

Abrams said his department has saved about $40,000 annually for each of the last five years to allow for such a project. The amount requested for the skate park would amount to about 3.7 percent of the $4 million for the parks that has been collected since 2014.

Abrams said his office is working with Spohn Ranch Skateparks in California, a company that has designed such parks around the country. The firm is building a larger skate park in Newark, in Licking County.

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A group of skate park supporters look over potential designs before a public hearing on the project in June.

The proposal immediately ran into opposition from City Council.

At its June 4 meeting, council didn't vote on the proposal, opting instead to appropriate $25,000 to pay for the design, engineering and cost estimate for the skate park.

The project seemed to be moving forward after City Council met again on June 18, a session that included a public hearing the proposal. 

Abrams, the city's parks and recreation department manager, showed a potential design for the 3,000-square foot concrete facility, answered questions from City Council and listened to positive comments from residents who attended the session.

No council members expressed opposition to the proposal after questions were answered about location, design, liability and costs.

During his presentation, Abrams said he discussed the skate park idea with the Richland County Foundation this spring. Such a park is found in the Mansfield Rising (Page 28) downtown investment plan, developed by local residents and explained earlier this year by Richland Source in its "Ideas of March" series.

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However, when City Council met again on July 2, it changed course, opting instead to approve the money for the playground equipment. It separated out the skate park proposal and announced it would consider the issue during three readings, beginning on Aug. 6.

Council's decision came after 35 minutes of public comment and a one-hour caucus session.

Third Ward Councilman Jon Van Harlingen, whose ward includes Maple Lake Park, made it clear many of his constituents were not in favor of the park in their area.

"I will tell you right now, publicly, this is two blocks from me. We do have some very, very, very concerned citizens about how this thing's all going to play out," said Van Harlingen, who also chairs council's finance committee.

"I have some very serious concerns, also. I think three readings will be very helpful, but I will tell ... this is one of the few pieces of legislation (that) I have to sit down and listen to what my neighbors are saying and quite a few neighbors are saying what they gotta say. I am just gonna let council and everyone know that."

Of the 13 residents who spoke about the proposed skate park, most were in favor, though one was opposed and several others expressed concerns the city should maintain the parks it already has, before building a new skate park.

Parks and Recreation Manager Mark Abrams again told council that work on improving the city's parks is ongoing.

Jean Taddie, who represents the 6th Ward, recommended the city complete its master plan for parks before approving the skate park. 

"My concern is putting the cart before the horse. We have experts out there surveying the community and putting together a plan on what our parks system could thrive and look like and we are trying to make a major investment before then," Taddie said.

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