An immediate request from a fellow rural reader:
Thank you so much for organizing this wonderful newsletter – its contents are of great benefit to me, and I appreciate the effort that goes into its creation.
My small town of Waldport, OR has a population of about 2,200 folks. We’ve taken a hard hit during this economic down turn, and not only are many storefronts empty, but there’s an overall feeling of hopelessness. In my opinion, the final straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was the news that FEMA ordered our high school demolished when it was ruled that the building and its surrounding property (11 acres) were in a tsunami zone. This was devastating news on not only a financial level, but an emotional one as well. The school’s presence in our small downtown area was the single largest source of community spirit as neighbors rallied to attend sporting events, school plays, and parent-teacher meetings.
The new high school opened its doors this Fall, but it is out of sight, high on a hilltop far out of view and tsunami danger. The former site is empty, its football stands demolished this summer and the building itself scheduled to be burned in November.
The one positive light in this situation is that the county’s school district was recently awarded a FEMA grant of $3,000,000 to remove the existing building and leave an open space. The school district would like nothing more than to grant this property to the city’s custody with the intent that it be used as a community gathering place. Residents, of course, see this as an opportunity to rejuvenate the downtown area, provide a space for health and wellness, and encourage tourism dollars.
Myself and a handful of other courageous people have formed an ad-hoc committee to create a plan and budget for a parks and recreation department to propose to our city council. The desire is to earmark a sum of money from the FEMA grant to seed the project, and rely on user fees, volunteers, and grants to maintain it. The overwhelming belief is that this should be a community space, and include a wide range of offerings such as, organic and edible gardens, picnic area, dog park, sports fields, concert/theater stage, and walking path.
I’ve been tasked with creating a preliminary parks and recreation plan and budget, which I’ll submit to the committee for review in two weeks (10/9). I’m wondering if any of your subscribers have any advice on establishing a grass-roots parks and recreation department. I’ve not found anything myself through an internet search, and given my time constraint, I’d rather not re-create the wheel when I know there’s sound advice to be given.
So I’m soliciting help from all the resources known to me, including you. If it’s possible to pose this situation to your readers, I’d greatly appreciate it. If it isn’t, I certainly understand. But I won’t know if I don’t ask the question.
Thank you for your time. Keep the good info coming – it sure does help!
Ivan Widjaya says
This is a really nice idea. I hope that they also do this in urban areas that desperately needs some greenery. The best part is that you don’t have to do it alone. Sometimes, all it takes is a little bit of teamwork for you to create something amazing.
Becky McCray says
Honestly, I really don’t wish this kind of challenge on anyone. But when a community does face it, it does take teamwork to make an improvement.
Brian Wiedemann says
A real challenge many small towns face is when a large square footage, historic property is longer used for its original purpose. How do you re-purpose a piano factory, a creamery, or a locomotive roundhouse into a modernized, financially-viable property?
In Staunton, VA (full disclosure: I live there), the historic Booker T. Washington high school was successfully converted into a vibrant community center after a newer high school absorbed its students. Today, the center remains a focal point for the neighborhood and provides a living link of Staunton’s rich African-American heritage. More recently, a second vacant high second has been converted into an independent living center. In both cases, the buildings remained and were renovated to suit their new purpose.
Obviously, if your existing school building is to be demolished and you’re creating the municipal organizational structure to administer the land use, it’ll be a more faceted challenge. Yet, pragmatic, realistic goals and expectations are a good start and it sounds like thoughtful, civic engagement is already afoot.
Could a fledgling Parks & Rec department be a sub-division of an existing municipal department? That way, you could piggy-back on their know-how and organizational knowledge.
Becky McCray says
Brian, thanks for those thoughts. I’ve seen one town reclaim lots that are in a flood plain. Waynoka, Oklahoma, was able to build a walking trail and other park facilities in that area. (Disclosure: I worked for the town on a part of the project.) my advice is to take this in stages. Don’t try to do it all at once. Also, get as many community members involved as possible. Such a big open space invites using the Placemaking principles to create a true community space. You can learn more about Placemaking here: http://www.pps.org/reference/what_is_placemaking/