The 1,000 questionnaires will yield more than information from users of Tulsa parks. They may also be an important step in an accreditation process which could even provide a financial boost, said Merry Moiseichik, the University of Arkansas professor who oversaw the questionnaire project.
The Tulsa Parks and Recreation Department is seeking to be the only parks department in Oklahoma to be accredited by the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies. Moiseichik said only 108 departments nationally have received such recognition.
Such accreditation "tends to help with funding of both the city and in grant writing," Moiseichik said. "People like to give to quality, and it gives a promise of a level of quality."
Money matters to the Tulsa Parks and Recreation Department. Department director Lucy Dolman was grilled at a March 7 meeting by city councilors who were curious about why some $41 million in funding requests for capital improvements did not include money for a "mega-center" for community recreation.
Dolman answered by noting the hefty expenses incurred with regular park maintenance.
"It's just basically taking care of what we have and maintaining what we have and doing the best with the money and the resources that we have," Dolman told councilors in a committee meeting, describing critical upkeep needs like leaky roofs and lack of lighting.
Her department is one of many seeking funding from a renewal of the city's Fix Our Streets tax package.
Councilors have said in crafting a proposal to likely put before voters in November that the majority of funds will go to street repairs, but that some capital needs will be funded with what is anticipated to be roughly $800 million in tax dollars.
Mayor Dewey Bartlett has said he'd like to use a portion of the sales tax currently used for capital projects -- an estimated $60 million over five years -- to devote funding to needs relating to public safety and road maintenance.
When it comes to parks, other cities even smaller than Tulsa have moved forward building such "mega-centers" for community recreation, Moiseichik said.
"They're using bond issues mostly. And then paying for it out of tax collection," she said.
She and University of Arkansas students put together the questionnaire on behalf of the Tulsa parks department. It does more than ask residents about specific park activities. On a scale from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree," respondents are asked if they think fees, sales tax, property tax, or a hotel, motel, and restaurant tax is the best way to fund park amenities.
"It gives a message to the city administration about how important the parks are," Moiseichik said.
By using students, the city is only paying for the direct costs associated with the research, a total of about $12,000, Moiseichik said.
Survey results will be tallied by May, she said.
Councilor Blake Ewing last year went before the Tulsa Parks Board to pitch a case for a large community center downtown with features like a rock climbing wall. At the March 7 meeting, Councilor Phil Lakin also expressed a desire for such a "mega-center" in Tulsa.
"My hope is we do start planning for that," Lakin said.
Dolman cited the department's master plan, adopted in 2010. Lakin was a citizen who helped draft the plan, but Dolman noted that the plan stops short of calling for construction of such a "mega-center" site.
"It's not that we don't want to build them. We need one. We need one bad in Tulsa," Dolman said. But when the master plan was developed, "it was what is realistic," she said, noting the fiscal worries the city faced in 2010. "Will we even have a parks department ... was kind of the way we were looking at it," Dolman said.
The plan does, however, reflect a need to improve destination parks, defined as parks with features beyond green space regularly sought out by citizens.
Moiseichik said the general trend of fewer-but-better parks is common in other cities. However, Tulsa has more than 140 parks which require costly maintenance, eating away at resources.
Moiseichik said Tulsa "is really on an upwards swing after they kind of hit bottom from the recession."
Budget cuts and hard decisions have been made, with the result a focus on creating "some larger parks with all of the amenities" instead of a focus on keeping open smaller community centers.
The moves don't come without controversy. Moiseichik also led a series of public meetings about Tulsa parks in February, and said the closing of B.C. Franklin recreation center in the northern part of the city remains an issue of community concern. At one time slated for demolition, the center remains in limbo, with upgrades possible.
"The hot issue was that they were removing some of those neighborhood parks to develop Lacy Park into a really nice community park," Moiseichik said.
Dolman told city councilors that any upgrades to the Franklin recreation center is "on hold right now," with Councilor Jack Henderson suggesting a neighborhood task force be formed to help determine the future of the center and others.
As far as other needs in the park system, there are many, Dolman said.
"Our pool infrastructure is not doing very well," she said. Plans call for more "self-sustaining" park features that are less costly to maintain, such as splash pads and pavilions in lieu of pools or buildings.
In Tulsa, LaFortune Park is actually run by Tulsa County. Councilor G.T. Bynum told Dolman, "The county has much better facilities than we do, but we have a much bigger budget than they do."
He noted how smaller needs make the bulk of the department's capital funding request.
"You've got four or five big ticket items that add up to about a third of your total request, and the other things are little things trickled out to the whole community," he said, asking if there was any concern with the Tulsa Parks Board that "we are not spending money wisely in the long-term because we're only focused on the short-term."
Dolman answered: "If we don't put the money into some of these facilities, we might as well tear them down right now."
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