A recently completed master plan for the Tulsa Park Department proposes establishing citizen committees to examine how the department should approach five areas under its purview, including the issue of what to do with a number of its aging facilities.
Park Director Lucy Dolman acknowledged that area could prove to be the most controversial, given her recent decision to close seven of the department's 16 community centers.
The Tulsa Parks and Recreation Master Plan, completed in February, is posted online at tulsaparks.org and runs 160 pages, including a 16-page executive summary. Dolman said the plan will be introduced formally to the public at 6pm Tuesday, March 30, at the Central Center at Centennial Park, 1028 E. Sixth St.
"I think for me, the highlight is, we have a plan, and we needed one now more than ever," she said. "But more important, what good is a plan if you don't have a plan for implementing it?"
That's a role the five citizen committees are likely to fill. According to the plan, they'll examine five areas -- facilities, programs, public relations, finance and trails. Dolman said she already has been lining up committee chairs and welcomes the input of anyone who wants to be involved.
"We're going to establish some definite goals and strategies to carry them out," she said. "I think it's a start. We kind of have -- I hate to say it -- a road map."
Dolman is hoping the release of master plan and the establishment of the five committees will help bring some stability and direction to a department that has been hampered by deep budget cuts over the past 10 years. Dolman's decision in January to close the seven community centers at the end of February in the wake of an order by Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. to trim $436,000 from her budget was not well received by the public, and it has led to a considerable amount of speculation that some shuttered park properties could be sold.
The plan itself was compiled by the Colorado-based consulting firm GreenPlay LLC and is the result of an effort that began in February 2009 and ended that November. The consultants organized focus groups, circulated citizen surveys and held public meetings to garner input for the plan, as well as a relying on a number of other documents, including the PLANiTULSA recommendations.
Among the most notable findings in the plan is that current financial realities make it impossible for the Park Department to fulfill all of the desires identified through the public input process. The plan recommends that the department focus on delivering quality in a more focused -- and, perhaps, more limited -- way.
The department's financial challenges are addressed in a number of ways, primarily through the recommendation that alternative funding methods be explored. The plan states a task force for strategic planning, finance and development should be created for establishing a dedicated funding source for the department's operational and capital needs, and for identifying and considering other revenue streams.
Among the ideas the plan recommends the department should consider are industrial development bonds, a designated license plate for parks, an entertainment tax, special-use permits, oil drilling fees, booth lease space, signage fees and product sales. On a list of ideas the department could consider are a hotel/motel/restaurant tax, a rental car tax, licensing rights, a food and beverage tax, a franchise fee on cable, a solid waste fee and a water utility fee.
The plan doesn't mince words when it comes to describing the state of many of the department's facilities.
"Most of the facilities in Tulsa were built in the '50s, '60s or '70s and are aging," the plan states. "Tulsa has not kept pace with best practices in its parks system.
There has not been enough funding for proper maintenance or operation, and the facilities have reached a critical point in their life cycle. Financial needs compounded by functional obsolescence has created a system that is substandard and unable to meet community needs (nor building or pool safety standards)."
Those conditions have not gone unnoticed by the public, according to the report.
"... the age of the parks and recreation facilities, the closing of facilities, and funding cuts are starting to take a toll on the reputation of the department," the plan states. "More modern suburban facilities are starting to draw residents away from the city facilities."
The plan recommends a number of strategies for dealing with substandard facilities, including removing them in extreme cases.
"Remove the component and simply refurbish the location to some non-specific function," it states. "Filling in and landscaping over an old swimming pool would be one example. This should be done when an existing component no longer serves its function and is a hazard, eyesore or nuisance, and the space is not currently needed for another specific purpose."
The use of swimming pools as an example is noteworthy, given the fact that the city has 21 such facilities but is only planning on opening five of them this summer -- and only then if it raises $300,000 in private funds to do so. As of March 11, the department had raised only $97,5000 toward that goal.
The plan recommends that park officials utilize an inventory analysis of existing pools to determine which ones are functional, which need repairs and which should be replaced or decommissioned. They should then formulate a plan to take appropriate action at each pool based on that analysis, the plan states.
Other significant aspects of the plan include:
A demographics study reveals the population in Tulsa is aging, leading to a dramatic projected increase over the next five years for residents 55 and older. Programming for those age groups should be expanded as the population grows.
A citizen survey that yielded more than 1,300 responses indicated there was strong support for funding improvements to community centers through the creation of a new dedicated funding source through a vote of the people.
The same survey indicated that parks and city trails are used most often by citizens, ranked highest as the most important to the community and received the most positive satisfaction ratings. Outdoor swimming pools are used least often, ranked the lowest in importance to the community and received the lowest satisfaction rankings.
Public events, such as "movie in the park" or large festivals at regional parks, continue to grow in popularity.
There is a desire for locally grown food and concerns about health and sustainability, a finding that perhaps illustrates the popularity of farmers markets.
While the popularity of tennis is one the rise, the condition of many of the city's courts is very poor.
The plan's executive summary lays out eight goals, the last of which is almost certain to generate a fair amount of discussion: a recommendation that the city consider combining the existing park department with the River Parks Authority and the Tulsa County Parks Department. It says a task force should be established to examine the potential of that move and issue a report by the end of the year.
The other seven goals are: maximize the planning effort, enhance marketing and communications, update parks and facilities to address changing needs and desires, maximize recreation program management, enhance financial strategies, and strategically increase partnerships.
Dolman said she hopes to have reports back from the citizen committees within a year. She acknowledged that certain aspects of the plan will draw more attention than others, particularly the issue of what to do with certain facilities that are no longer operational.
"We've got to go through those facilities and figure out the legal opportunities that are out there," she said.
Dolman said she's excited just to have the plan in her hands and hopes it will generate some positive momentum.
"If we were in these dire financial straits without a master plan to move us forward, it would be hard for anybody to support us donations for us," she said. "But people are stepping up to make a difference in the park system, and I'm real happy with that. This is a method to channel that energy."
Share this article: