Published: Jul 24, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Jul 23, 2012 12:09 PM
Beyond the band-aids
Richard Dean Anderson’s character “MacGyver” was certainly among the most resourceful and industrious characters to grace television. From 1985 to 1992, the secret agent showed us 1,001 uses for duct tape, how to create a thermonuclear reaction using leftovers in the refrigerator, how to build a suspension bridge out of paper clips and a shoelace, and how to save a plummeting jetliner with a wad of bubblegum and 50 Band-aids.In real life, a pot roast rarely detonates, and Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation Director Butch Kisiah was getting tired of Band-aids. He thinks the 2012-13 budget approved by the Town Council on July 10 finally provides a vision beyond quick fixes and deferred upkeep.“In the past, we haven’t had enough money to fix things the way they needed to be fixed, so we put Band-aids on them,” he said. “The problem is we were spending more money on Band-aids over time than we would have if we fixed things right in the first place.”The council enacted a project ordinance amendment for parks and recreation and streets improvements using $1.7 million in two-thirds bonds. The new budget will give the agency momentum as it seeks support of a master plan to go before the Town Council this fall.“When all’s said and done, we’ll be looking at a plan that addresses what we need to fix, and also where we need to go over the next 10 years,” Kisiah said, “demonstrating that things can be done the right way.”More consistent feesIn addition to appropriated funds, some revenue will also be generated through fee increases which Kisiah said are now more consistent throughout recreation programs. As such, group programs will see little, if any, increases, while programs targeting individuals are seeing some higher fees.“We look at the going market rate and a fee philosophy which states that we’re going to subsidize rates that benefit the most people,” Kisiah explained. “The more community benefit there is for a program, the more likely it is that we’ll pitch in money and not charge the full rate. If it’s an individual activity – say a private swimming lesson – you might pay the full fee. A group swimming lesson might be subsidized a little bit.”Kisiah said that program fees had remained inconsistent throughout his five-year tenure in Chapel Hill.“We were all over the place with how we gave discounts for different programs,” he said. “We wanted some consistency, so we gave everybody around a 25 percent discount compared to what you’d pay for a daily fee … you get a 25 percent discount when they go for a 20-visit pass, or a yearly pass, or a 30-day pass. The fees go up for the individual passes, but they still get a break compared to the daily fees.”Fee increases include individual passes to gymnasiums, swimming facilities, and access to meeting rooms or facilities rentals. “Even in the regular budget, we did pretty well though,” Kisiah offered. “We weren’t treated any differently than any department, and we’re able to get some much-needed equipment – new mowers, a new tractor, and maintenance equipment we didn’t have. More than anything else, though, people are going to see bricks-and-mortar projects on the ground.”‘Stuff we needed to fix’Kisiah said unfunded repairs and long-deferred maintenance are emphasized right alongside new projects.“We’ve got a lot of stuff we needed to fix – unfunded repairs and deferred maintenance,” he said. “We’re continuing our small parks fund, the greenway fund, the playground replacement program we do every year. On top of that we were able to secure $700,000 in two-thirds bonds, which will allow us to do a lot more things, including repairs to Phillips (Middle School), and the Ephesus (Elementary School) tennis courts.”Kisiah said he recently closed the Phillips courts out of concern for players’ safety.“We’ll be putting lights on the inline hockey rink at Southern Community Park too,” he added. “We’re trying to establish a youth inline hockey league. Our adult league only plays on Saturday mornings: it’s too hot on summer days, and in the winter it’s too dark during the evenings. With the lights, we’ll expand the potential for evening play.”Cedar Falls fans can expect a substantial facelift.“There’s the county’s soccer superfund money left over from 2000,” Kisiah said. “That’s going to help with installing synthetic turf at Cedar Falls, and we’re just about ready to go out to bid on that project.”The Town Council allowed parks and recreation to take $500,000 out of existing park bond funds sold, but the project will also benefit from soccer superfund money.“The county’s providing $623,000,” Kisiah said, “and we’re putting in another $500,000. We’ll be putting in two synthetic fields like the intramural fields on the UNC campus. We’ll see new fencing, and we’re also going to light those fields. It really expands the amount of playing surface.”Kisiah added that Cedar Falls will also see changes beyond the playing fields.“We’re still in design, but I’m hoping to tear the rest room building down,” he said. “We’ll leave the concrete pad where it is, move the restrooms up closer to the playground and still near the ball fields, and build the picnic shelter and concession stand where the rest rooms are now.”Master planCome autumn, Kisiah will be lobbying for the parks and recreation’s Parks and Greenways Master Plan at a final public hearing in September before the plan goes before the Town Council. While the plan asks for funding for new projects, maintenance is still the priority.“It’s mostly about what we need to fix to have a great park system,” he said. “We have issues with accessibility, and we have rest room facilities that need to be repaired (or replaced). There are some great parks that we essentially need to take a bulldozer to. The properties are nice, but the parks were built in the 1970s. Since then, nothing’s been done to them, so now they need major work.”Still, Kisiah does envision several additional programs and facilities over the next decade.“The plan does call for another outdoor swimming pool,” he said, “and it calls for a tennis center with rest rooms and a storage building at Cedar Falls Park, where I’d like to add six more courts to the six courts already there.“We’re also calling for new neighborhood parks … and there’s also space set aside at the Southern Community Park for a new recreation center, a new program building. If you want to host arts and crafts or classes, we’ve got nowhere – maybe one room in the Community Center and two small spaces at Hargraves.”If Kisiah’s vision for the next 10 years meets with the same approval as the agency’s current fiscal year budget, recreation fans can expect to see a few more facilities, innumerable repairs, and fewer Band-aids.