Reimagining recreation: CCPR plans revitalization, expansion projects in next 5 years

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For more than a year, leadership at Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation has been looking ahead to the next five years.

Now, with its board’s recent approval of a new master plan, CCPR Director Michael Klitzing said his department is focused on improving on what it has and on planning for what the future will bring.

“Our master plan basically is our document that guides development and management of the parks system for the next five years,” Klitzing said. “It’s very much grounded on public input as well as feedback from community leaders.”

Throughout 2018 and 2019, Klitzing said CCPR and a professional surveying company administered a statistically valid survey to Carmel residents with a goal of getting 400 responses. The department received 576.

“One of the things we find in our community is that people have been very good at responding. We have 95 percent confidence, plus or minus a 4 percent margin of error,” Klitzing said. “That really helps us understand, one, what the public thinks of the quality of our existing parks and value of the services we’re providing, and two, what they would like to see in the parks moving forward.”

CCPR will focus on four major areas identified in the survey.

THE WHITE RIVER

From 96th Street to 146th Street, the White River touches Carmel’s entire eastern boundary, and with a recent statewide push to activate the waterway via the White River Vision Plan, Klitzing said CCPR wants to create partnerships to embrace the river’s untapped potential.

Part of that will be to potentially double or triple the length of the existing 2 1/2-mile White River Greenway, stretching it from 96th to 146th Street. Klitzing said he hopes the expansion will take the greenway’s users as close to the water as possible.

“We also really want to look into opportunities to get people into the river beyond what already exists,” Klitzing said. “How can we help the public better understand the river and what it means not only currently, but historically and in the future?”

One key relationship for the city and CCPR is with Conner Prairie, which owns a significant chunk of the land on Carmel’s side of the White River.

“They have a vision for creating a museum experience on the river, but part of that is also looking at creating a river education and ecology center. We see that aligning very closely with our master plan,” Klitzing said. “There’s strong demand for a nature center, but Hamilton County, up at Cool Creek Park, has a very nice nature center and Indy Parks has one at Holliday Park. All of the experiences that we could provide are reflective of the same types of experiences they could provide, but when we started talking to Conner Prairie about the river, a river education center is a nature center, and it’s focused on our most significant natural resource.”

Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation is working to redesign and upgrade the playground and splash pad features at West Park. (Submitted rendering)

THE WEST CORRIDOR

CCPR also is moving forward with plans to better serve Carmel’s west side. Currently, West Park is the only CCPR-managed park west of Meridian Street.

“We’ll be looking at how we can identify and hopefully be able to secure some additional park land, especially in the northwest portion of the community where there’s a lot of growth still occurring but without parks,” Klitzing said, noting that another component of planning for future development in the area would include discussions with stakeholders at Creekside, West Clay and College Wood elementary schools, which all are connected in some way to West Park.

To the south of the park is University High School.

“Ideally, in a perfect world, we’d like to have a park that’s at least 20 acres, but looking at the land that’s available (in that northwest area), it may be a challenge,” Klitzing said. “There aren’t a lot of 20-acre parcels available. We’ll probably scale it down to 5 or so acres. It could be one park or multiple parks. It will mostly be based on where we’d really like to be between 131st and 146th streets, west of Meridian. Our goal is to secure land and make a plan for that land within the next five years. We probably won’t be in a position to develop within that time.”

REIMAGINING EXISTING PARKS

Perhaps the most important area of focus, Klitzing said, is to revitalize and make upgrades to CCPR’s existing parks.

A comprehensive assessment of all CCPR parks and amenities at the end of 2018 helped identify priorities and needs. Klitzing said the study evaluated conditions of park equipment, including splash pads and playgrounds, as well as identified upgrades that could help bring each park up to date.

“We’re a relatively new parks system, established in 1991. Most of our parks are only about 15 to 20 years old,” Klitzing said. “What that means is that a lot of our assets are in really good repair, but some of our components, especially our playgrounds, are in need, because a typical playground has a 15- to 20-year life span. So, one of our major goals is to make those upgrades, taking care of our existing assets and bringing them up to ensure they’re at the highest standard.”

Revitalizing existing parks also is an area where CCPR has been fortunate in terms of funding. At the end of 2019, the Clay Township Trustee’s Office approved an issuance of nearly $30 million in bonds to help fund park improvements.

Projects include a new playground at Carey Grove Park. Flowing Well Park, one of the city’s oldest parks, will undergo bank stabilization, which will help the creek from encroaching. Also at Flowing Well, Klitzing said CCPR will install restrooms and expand the overall property.

At West Park, the playground and splash pad will be replaced along with construction of new shelters and improved parking. Meadowlark Park will get a new playground, with construction likely to begin at the end of the year and be complete by 2021. Also in 2021, a new playground will be installed at River Heritage Park, and the splash pad at Inlow Park will be replaced.

EMBRACING NATURE

Many of Hamilton County’s municipal park systems are sports-focused, but Klitzing said CCPR primarily focuses on nature experiences, with just two outdoor basketball courts and two multi-purpose fields throughout the entire parks system.

“A big part of that is schools obviously pre-date this parks system, so a lot of assets are already on the school grounds and available to the public. The Carmel Dads’ Club pre-dates the parks system by probably close to 50 years. They already have the sports fields,” Klitzing said. “So, we’ve really always focused on nature and that escape from daily tribulations of living in a more urban or suburban environment.”

Klitzing said future programming, educational opportunities and activities in each park will further celebrate the idea of experiencing nature.

“If you look at the origination of Carmel Clay Parks, it was created because of a groundswell of members of the public that, at the time, the community was exploding with growth,” Klitzing said. “They were seeing field after field after forested area being converted into residential development and other development. The public really wanted to make sure that they preserved open space within our community, so that’s really been ingrained in our roots and founding principles.”

FUNDING THE FUTURE

According to Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation estimates, CCPR Director Michael Klitzing said the department will need to spend nearly $47.5 million to complete its mission of reinvesting in each of its parks.

Taking into account the approximately $30 million it will receive from Clay Township, Klitzing said, as of press time, CCPR has secured approximately 72 percent of what’s needed to complete all planned projects. Klitzing said the parks board is still looking for additional funding to bridge the $13.5 million gap, which could include reworking maintenance practices. For example, CCPR could make expensive purchases on a lease to spread the cost of new equipment during its lifetime rather than paying a lump sum.

For new capital investments, such as securing additional park land, Klitzing said the department estimates needing approximately $49 million during the five-year period, approximately half of which has been secured.

“Some of those things will simply be deferred because we’re going to focus on our existing assets first,” Klitzing said. “There may be some grants that we haven’t pursued that will help us leverage the existing money that we have and make it go a little bit further.”




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