West Park plans to expand on 40 acres of undeveloped land this year, create new spaces for high school students, residents of West Carmel

Angela Li

First, what is the expansion project in general and the goal of the project?

“Sure. So for West Park, actually about two years ago, we did a new master plan for West Park. We’ve got 120 acres total in that park, and 80 (acres) of (the park) has basically been developed—that’s the part of the park that you see now that has the playground, the big sledding hill, the trails, the lagoon. Roughly about 10 years ago, we purchased an additional 40 acres and that’s never been incorporated into the park… We wanted to develop a new master plan that guides the future for that park and incorporates that 40 acres that’s undeveloped into the park. We also know, even though West Park by many standards is a relatively new park, some of the equipment in there—the playground, the splash pad that’s in there, it’s about 15 years old and that’s about how long you can expect (it to last), especially, in the Midwest, for that type of equipment. So for the master plan, we wanted to do two things: incorporate the new 40 acres in and then look at how do we look at the aging equipment in there and proactively prepare for its ultimate replacement within the next several years. We had a number of public meetings, we actually had some educational meetings where we talked about ecology of the park, different play experiences that could be in the park, and just general trends in parks and recreation. Then, we had a three-day design [inaudible], so architects and landscape architects come in and work with the public over three days and actually, in front of the public, basically design and come up with the master plan, which is on the wall behind us. And that kind of created the vision for what we hope west park will look like as funding permits. The entire master plan implement would be probably close to 50 million dollars. We don’t have those funds available on the drop of a dime, so we looked at what can we do. We looked at the 40 acres, the newer part that we incorporated in, and honed in on the designs for that and identified that what we need initially is a program facility that will allow us to house summer camps during the summer and can be used for recreational programs, fitness classes throughout the year. So we looked at a building there, we wanted to be able to begin engaging the public with the woods that we have back there, I mean people like obviously walking on trails and having the experiences in the woods, so we looked at putting in a loop trail and also, within the loop–and it’s not a real big loop trail, it’s probably a quarter mile–but within the middle of it, installing a playground that would give a little bit of a different type of play experience than what we have in our existing playgrounds, kind of a more natural, earthy-type feel. So, putting that in there, and then also the support facilities that you need for it: parking, and entrance drive to get you to that part of the park, and trails to connect into our existing park system, park trails in West Park. That’s what we’re really looking to do with this first phase. We actually have done it in several phases. The first thing we needed to do, of the 40 acres, about one-third of the property is wooded, and of the woods, the woods weren’t in the best shape. What had happened is most of the good portion of the trees were ash trees, and the emerald ash borer (insect), which has been migrating throughout the midwest and the country has basically, what it does, is it eats the trees and kills the trees, so the first thing we needed to do was remove all the hazardous trees, the dying trees or the dead trees so that the woods would be safe as we develop and invite the public to begin using it. So we started doing that, and then finished the plans for the construction, and actually, we just recently awarded the bid (not super clear?) so that we can start the construction of the building and the playground, so that’s actually getting ready to start up; they got the notice to proceed earlier this week, so that construction will start shortly.

 

Do you have a time estimation for how long this construction will last?

With this initial phase that we’re doing, construction, will be starting any day here. They should be mobilizing probably next week to start doing general earth-moving and stuff for the site. So that will be starting, and Everything is anticipated to be completed by April of next year, so just roughly a 12-month time period. The goal is to have the new facility open and ready so that it can be used for summer camps in 2019.

 

What impact do you hope this expansion will have on the community, and specifically high school students?

For this, I think it provides several different opportunities. First of all, the programming that we provide is—summer camps are not necessarily something that high schoolers are going to go to—but we do employ a lot of high schoolers for summer camps and other programming; so the first thing that this might be able to allow us to do is provide some more job opportunities for high school students in the community. Also, our programs that we offer throughout the year, we’re looking at actually bringing some group fitness classes out there, so activities that we certainly love having high schoolers in those programs as well as other adults, so those are opportunities that will be new for West Park. Right now, most of the programs that we offer are centralized in Central Park and the Monon Community Center, so this provides a way for us to bring some of those program opportunities out to the west side so people don’t have to drive as far, if you live on the west side of the community.

 

How much of the 40 acres will this first phase use?

“(The first phase) is basically occupying not quite half of that 40 acres. We’ll have subsequent phases that incorporate the additional half. So this one, like I said, has the program facility here which is roughly 10,000 square feet, it’ll have three large rooms that can be consolidated into one big room. The big parking area is here. What the parking area can be used as too, is this half of the parking lot can be closed off so that we can do programming, like when we’re having summer camps or doing things that are easier to do on a hard surface, we can incorporate that out here. We’ll have a flexible lawn space that when we have summer camps, it’s where kids can go out and run, but throughout the course of the year, it’s a place where the public can just go to and kick a soccer ball, throw a frisbee back there.

Why is this expansion happening now?

(The expansion is happening now due to) several different factors. We would have loved to be able to actually begin incorporating the 40 acres when we purchased it over 10 years ago; however, we just didn’t have the funds to do it at the time, so some of it is because we now have the funds available to do it. The other thing, and what’s really driving the importance of the building here, is the popularity of the Monon Community Center. Over the course of the last several years, our programming just continues to grow there, so if you’re familiar with the monon center ,the west side of the building has traditionally been where the fitness, and of course the gym, is located, and that’s where a lot of our fitness classes were going, and the east  building was more for arts-and-crafts type classes, general education-type classes, but we didn’t do a lot of fitness classes on the east building. As our membership has grown, as the popularity of the programs continues to grow, we’ve had to move our fitness programming into the east building, which is wonderful; it allows us to offer larger spaces and serve more people, but what that’s done is, during the summer months, before we would always use the east building for summer camps, but now, we actually have to reduce the number of fitness programs that we offer during the summer months because we need to use that space for summer camps. So what this allows us to do is continue to grow our fitness classes, not retract them during the summer months, and move some of our camps out to a new location, so it really is, to some degree, driven by revenue, because by reducing the programs that we’re offering at the Monon Community Center, it reduces the amount of income we can make there, so this allows us to grow the income at both places.

 

Would there be a membership for this facility at West Park?

This one is not going to be a membership-driven facility, it’s just program space, but the programs that are offered will be fee-driven, so there’ll be a registration fee to participate in the classes or whatever happens to be offered out there.

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