Falcon Heights takes a look at parks improvement study results

Council members express concerns about ADA non-compliance

At a work session June 4, Falcon Heights council members and city staff dove into a report regarding the state of its municipal parks. The improvement study, which was compiled by consulting firm WSB & Associates, looked at a number of different aspects involving the city’s three parks, Community Park, Curtiss Field Park and University Grove Park.

The study offers several suggestions - totaling an estimated $1.5 million - for potential improvements at each of the parks and trails, ranging from pavement repairs to installing a more robust playground.

For several council members, an illuminating piece of information that came from the report was the fact that none of the parks currently comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which, among other provisions, stipulates that facilities must be accessible to all people, including those in wheelchairs.

“It’s embarrassing,” Mayor Peter Lindstrom said at the work session. “It’s like a big ‘You’re not welcome.’”

Extraneous improvements aside, just bringing the parks into compliance with the ADA would cost a hefty chunk of change, council member Chuck Long said, citing an audit the city had commissioned a couple of years ago.

“We’re so far away,” he said.

Council members and staff mentioned a few park amenities that do not cater to the disabled, including swings, a lack of handicap-accessible bathrooms and unpaved nature trails.

“If you’re in a wheelchair,” Lindstrom said, exasperated. “Just forget about it.”

The parks were created before the ADA took effect in 1992, so they’re not constructed with handicap accessibility in mind. That, coupled with the deteriorating state of paved pathways and aging playground equipment, tells city officials it’s time for some serious improvements.

“We’ve done little things here and there over the years,” Long said. “But we’ve never done a major overhaul of anything.”

Another prevalent theme of the study was the idea of envisioning the parks as a system rather than individual parks.

“Rather than thinking of each park within Falcon Heights as serving just the adjacent residents with the same amenities at each, they should each be considered as a small piece of a larger whole. Parks are always more interesting when they offer something different from the others, and by doing so will hopefully encourage people to get out and explore from one park to the next,” the report states.

The idea of developing the parks to highlight a certain theme, like sustainability, history, wildlife or education, was also discussed.

Now that the study has been completed, the council will likely begin looking into the creation of master plans to guide potential improvements at each of the parks. Council members expressed interest in keeping their contract with WSB & Associates for the master plans.

A main determining factor for which improvements will be implemented likely depends on how much it’s going to cost the city, which as of 2013 only had a balance of $23,964 in its Parks/Recreation/Public Facilities Capital Improvements Fund.

About 60 percent of the revenue for the Parks Program Fund comes from parks and recreation programming fees. An average of approximately $11,000 from facility rentals is deposited into the city’s general fund.

Despite financial limitations, city officials say the sky’s the limit when it comes to envisioning the future of the parks system.

“Let’s think creatively,” Lindstrom said. “There’s plenty of time to scale back. This can be our crowning jewel.”

The full text of the parks improvement study is available on the Falcon Heights city website at www.falconheights.org.

Johanna Holub can be reached at jholub@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813. Follow her on Twitter @jholubnews.


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