By Mallory Panuska, Frederick News Post
Thursday, May 18, 2017

57a2bb3034046.imageFrederick’s Westside Regional Park is inching closer to reality, with a second task force meeting out of the way and $2 million for construction set for approval Thursday in the city’s fiscal 2018 budget.

The future multi-use recreational facility is slated for a large tract of vacant farmland along Butterfly Lane known as Hargett Farm. City officials spent $18 million in 2009 to purchase the farm and have been paying $1.5 million annually on the debt service.

The Board of Aldermen is set Thursday to approve $2 million in the fiscal 2018 capital spending plan for park construction. If approved, the funds would be the city’s first major investment into the project’s development since the purchase of the farm.

The park’s price tag was nearly $100 million at conception, but members of an ad hoc task force are working to determine exactly what will go in it and how much it will cost. Officials hope to use both public and private funds to pay for it.

The $2 million is set to pay for construction of an internal access road into the park. Zack Kershner, the city’s director of public works, said Wednesday that the money is already included in the budget to pay for design of the access road and for realignment of nearby Butterfly Lane to support the project. Kershner said the request for proposals for design of both roads went out last week. He expects the designs to take six to nine months to complete, with construction bids expected to go out in spring 2018.

In budget discussions last week, several of the aldermen questioned whether some of the $2 million could be reallocated for other projects in fiscal 2018. The idea was ultimately squashed, though, with Alderman Michael O’Connor and Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak both speaking adamantly against moving the money.

“I will not vote yes on a budget that does not have that money in it,” Kuzemchak said in a May 10 workshop.

Kershner said Wednesday he expects to spend the full $2 million on a purchase order for a contractor to complete the work. He also said the money to complete the Butterfly Lane realignment is already included in the fiscal 2018 and fiscal 2019 budgets.

Aldermen in January approved a $98.5 million “bubble plan” for the park. The plan is a simpler version of a detailed proposal that elected officials initially rejected in August. It identifies sections, or bubbles, and lists facilities, amenities and infrastructure that could go in each one.

The original plan specifically called for a sports complex with multi-use fields and a stadium, a water park, an indoor swimming center, festival grounds and associated park facilities, among other elements.

In an effort to obtain a better plan and vision for the park, Mayor Randy McClement in March created the Westside Regional Park Task Force. The ad hoc committee, made up of a cross section of community, government and business representatives, is tasked with meeting for one year and tackle a series of goals, which include completing the park’s design and engineering, overseeing implementation of the approved bubble plan, and developing design standards for the park.

The group meets monthly and held its second meeting Wednesday. Committee members at the meeting discussed a proposal from the National Park Service to rent storage space for things such as maintenance equipment, trucks and trailers in exchange for storing and renovating some of the buildings on the farm.

Committee members also discussed potential subcommittees they could form to help narrow the focus of the group.

The members appointed a commission and vision subcommittee and field trip subcommittee Wednesday.

The commission and vision subcommittee will discuss creation of a mission statement for the group.

The field trip subcommittee will plan and coordinate trips to other parks and recreational facilities in the region to obtain ideas and inspiration about how they run and what may or may not work at Westside Regional Park.

Committee members also hope to bring in representatives from organizations including the Maryland Stadium Authority and USA Swimming to provide information about what types of facilities may be needed and how they should be constructed.