An updated draft version to the Tulsa parks master plan is being completed by city officials, citizens and consultants, and plans call for having the update posted online by the end of October.
Susan Neal, an aide to Mayor Kathy Taylor who oversees the Tulsa Park and Recreation Department, said the process is being conducted in two phases, with work on the first phase proceeding now. By the end of the process, which began in March, Tulsa Parks will have a new master plan for the first time in 30 years.
Neal described the first phase as an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the parks department. She said it would serve as a guide to what the community values most in its parks, along with giving city officials the tools to determine how to evaluate those resources.
"It'll give us guidance on how to continue doing the things that enhance our parks, how to stop doing things that don't and maybe how to redirect some of our energies and resources to other areas," she said. "It will also recommend some financing strategies."
Like many other city departments, the parks department is operating under a tight budget, meaning a number of its facilities are deteriorating or not being used at all. For instance, only a fraction of the city's 22 swimming pools were open over the summer.
GreenPlay LLC, a Broomfield, Colo.,-based firm that was hired to update the master plan, has conducted a series of public meetings and focus groups, and compiled information from a survey about parks sent to Tulsa residents in April. An analysis of that information was presented to citizens at a forum on Sept. 29 at the Central Center at Centennial Park, and feedback from that event is being used to complete the update draft.
Neal characterized the public input to this point by saying, "People seem to want us to fix up what we have if it is reasonable to do so and of good quality," she said.
The problem with many Park and Recreation Department facilities, she acknowledged, is that they have not been well maintained over the years and are showing their age.
"Many of them are 50 or 60 years old," she said. "Lots of our rec centers were built in the '60s and '70s, so they're old."
Neal said what happens to those facilities is yet to be determined, but it's possible some of them could be eliminated.
"We know, given the number of comments that we've had, that everybody is indicating an awareness that our facilities are outdated," she said. "And they're supportive of closing some that are not cost effective."
Neal believes that citizens who have taken part in the process so far have a good understanding of the financial limitations the department faces.
"Change is not necessarily high on their list," she said. "They seem to understand we're looking for something of high quality and that's sustainable. They seem to understand our plight."
The most popular feature of Tulsa Parks, she said, is its trails system.
"(People) love trails," Neal said. "They want to increase the number of regional trails, and they want more connectivity with that."
She said citizen/participants also favored expanding restroom and playground facilities in all of the city's parks.
"They're not looking for pie in the sky," Neal said. "They're looking for green space, and they love green spaces, but they want to make sure it's maintained, and they want to see public facilities."
Neal noted that another significant aspect of the work being done right now is an analysis of how well park facilities fit in with the surrounding neighborhood. For example, she said, there's no point in operating a splash park in a neighborhood with primarily elderly residents.
"We're tailoring our facilities to the demographics," she said. "If you have an aging population, that needs to be taken into consideration."
A core project team chaired by Margie Warren and Jamie Zink is working with GreenPlay on the plan update. Neal is a member of the group, along with Lucy Dolman, interim director of Park and Recreation Department, and Dale McNamara, chairman of the Tulsa Recreation and Park board.
Work on the parks master plan update is taking place at the same time a master plan update for the city at large is unfolding under the auspices of PLANiTULSA. Neal said that is an advantageous situation, as both are essentially land-use plans and have a number of other similarities.
"We hope to roll phase one of the park plan into PLANiTULSA and have it available next year," she said.
The second phase of the parks master plan update will begin early next year, Neal said. In that phase, prototypes and pilot projects will be developed in two or three neighborhoods to determine their effectiveness.
"Given our funding challenges, there will be a heavy reliance on private funds for that," she said.
The issue of whether the Tulsa Park and Recreation Department should have its own dedicated funding source remains a sticky one. That idea was espoused by Nancy Atwater, the department's former director, who was let go in June after engaging in a dispute with Taylor.
Neal said there is public support for such an idea, though it comes with a number of qualifications. In a general sense, she said, public feedback has indicated a preference for creating a dedicated funding source through a vote of the people over such options as closing more facilities or contracting park-related services to outside firms.
GreenPlay's nine-month contract calls for the firm to be paid $160,000 for its work on the update, with the money coming from private donations through the Tulsa Community Foundation.
GreenPlay was selected for the plan development contract after applying through the city's RFP process in fall 2008. A search committee chose the firm by a unanimous vote.
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