Council questions Parks and Rec director on master plan

Published 8:03 pm Thursday, October 14, 2021

Council members peppered Parks and Recreation Director Mark Furlo with questions about different department initiatives, focusing on recreation centers during a briefing on a draft of a new master plan.

Furlo, during the Oct. 6 council meeting, told council that the master plan adopted in 2016 had met about 73% of its goals, while 16% were still in progress and 11% were ongoing. The department must complete a new master plan and have council approve it to maintain its accreditation with the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies.

He outlined eight broad goals for the department over the next five years, with numerous objectives for each, with much of its goals centered on enhancing trails and their connectivity, improving water access and completing new parks, facilities and open space. The Parks and Recreation Commission approved those goals and objectives in March.

“That’s a very aggressive master plan,” said Councilman Roger Fawcett. “You guys have accomplished a lot, and it looks like you’re going to accomplish a lot more.”

Still, he and others had concerns about various initiatives.

Councilman Donald Goldberg called for the plan to include a downtown recreation center, noting the city has been without one for more than 15 years.

“I agree with you 100%,” Furlo said. “Ever since Birdsong (Recreation Center) was razed, we have left the population in the core downtown area without a place to go for recreation services.”

That took place in 2005, and the East Suffolk Recreation Center opened in 2007.

Fawcett said he doesn’t want the desire for an indoor aquatic center to be forgotten about, citing its popularity among those surveyed.

“It’s important for the youth of our city,” Fawcett said.

Councilman Tim Johnson asked Furlo about where recreation centers stand as part of the city’s philosophy for the future, especially out in areas such as Whaleyville and Holland, and said they need to be part of the long-range plan.

Furlo said there are no immediate plans to put a recreation center at the site of the former Southwestern school on Southwestern Boulevard, but the department wants to evaluate the site.

“We need to stop evaluating and start thinking what we’re going to do,” Johnson said.

In response to a question from Councilman Lue Ward, Furlo said there are no plans for a recreation center in the Nansemond Borough, though he said the new one going into the Bennett’s Creek area borders it in the northern end of the city.

Ward also asked how people would get to the recreation centers. Furlo said the department would look to establish connections to the Seaboard Coastline Trail as well as bus stops.

In Burbage Grant and nearby areas, Ward noted the lack of a park, with children having to pay to use the recreation in the schools. He said it has been a long-standing issue with all the housing construction coming in without recreation for children.

“We have all these homes there, but we have no free recreation,” Ward said. “This has been overlooked for 20 years, 15 years. Now you tell me we’ve got a recreation center here, a recreation center downtown, you’ve got a recreation center in all of these places, what in the world happened to that part of Suffolk?

Furlo said the department has made upgrades to Magnolia Park in Huntersville, and it operates the joint-use recreation center at Northern Shores Elementary School.

He said when Burbage Grant and nearby neighborhoods were being developed, the city determined it was too costly to build parks after the fact, so it had required developers to include open spaces as part of their developments in the neighborhoods they were developing.

Mayor Mike Duman echoed the call by several council members for an aquatics center and the need for it and its economic impact. He also wants to see further progress on Lone Star Lakes Park and the Driver Transmitter Station.

Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett said he is keen on seeing the Driver Transmitter area developed into a park. Furlo said that would be addressed in the upcoming capital budget.

The vice mayor said he also wants to see increased connectivity with communities via the Seaboard Coastline Trail.

“We’re aggressively looking for funding,” Furlo said.

 

Proposed Parks and Recreation Master Plan goals, objectives

Goal 1: Financial stability

  • Identify grant funding opportunities and increase sponsorship and naming right opportunities
  • Look into auto-draft options for child care and memberships

Goal 2: Customer service and professional development

  • Provide ongoing customer service and diversity training
  • Develop and update succession plan yearly
  • Continue ongoing staff training, certifications and cross-training

Goal 3: Marketing

  • Develop and put into place a marketing and branding plan
  • Update and revise responsiveness of department’s website
  • Update trail guide

Goal 4: Program evaluation

  • Administer program surveys for 100% of its programs, events
  • Improve accuracy at counting/estimating attendance at special events
  • Administer program surveys for virtual programming

Goal 5: Trails and Connectivity

  • Implement a Master Bike Plan
  • Create a capital project for bike project
  • Design and identify funding for additional sections and connections to the Seaboard Coastline Trail
  • Plan new multi-use trails and Bennett’s Creek Park, Sleepy Hole Park and Lone Star Lakes Park
  • Enhance existing trails with signage, fitness equipment and other amenities
  • Achieve walkable/bikeable community certification

Goal 6: Water access

  • Design additional water access improvements for Bennett’s Creek Park
  • Create water access for the Blackwater River and the Driver Transmitter Site
  • Create deep water access in the Nansemond River
  • Develop Constant’s North Park
  • Develop a shoreline park and trail at the Tidewater Community College property
  • Create kayak storage rental programs at regional parks

Goal 7: Existing parks, facilities and open space

  • Phase 2 renovations of Cypress Park Pool
  • Identify and address safety and Americans with Disabilities Act issues
  • Evaluate recreation options for the Whaleyville Annex and the former Southwestern school
  • Expand joint-use partnerships of recreation facilities with public schools
  • Revise unified development ordinance standards for development of private recreation space
  • Identify opportunities to create public art
  • Plant shade with all new playground installations and other facility improvements
  • Create replacement cycle for playgrounds
  • Create inclusive playground in northern Suffolk
  • Implement master plans for Lone Star Lakes, Lake Meade, Bennett’s Creek and Sleepy Hole parks
  • Create a plan to remove invasive species in the parks

Goal 8: New parks, facilities and open space

  • Bennett’s Creek Recreation Center
  • Parks and Recreation maintenance operation facility
  • Acquire funding to buy property for development of the Blackwater River Park
  • Design and build interpretive center at Lone Star Lakes Park
  • Build Constant’s North Park
  • Develop park along James River in partnership with Tidewater Community College Foundation
  • Create the Courthouse Parking Lot event space — “The Lot.”
  • Develop Driver Transmitter property into a park
  • Design and build an indoor aquatics center
  • Identify spaces to provide recreation to residents of the downtown Suffolk area through partnerships with libraries or other organizations