College Township evaluates greater role for parks committee

Engaging more with the community and getting more direction from the Township Council related to the many area open spaces are two goals of the Parks and Recreation Committee.

Those and other recommendations were the result of interviews with most committee members, an effort to get input on the committee’s structure and operations and better serve the township.

The council followed up with a discussion during Thursday night’s meeting, offering ideas like sending a council liaison to parks meetings or getting a parks report at council meetings, and involving the committee in more development plans.

Councilwoman Mary Shoemaker, engineer Kent Baker and Manager Adam Brumbaugh conducted the interviews this fall. Shoemaker said it was a pleasant surprise that, along with the compiled recommendations, committee members praised the work of Baker and the public works crew.

“I realize it’s probably good if we talk among ourselves and have a big picture that we can share with them,” she said. “I think some of their time is spent on things maybe we should be discussing.”

Other recommendations that came out of the interviews are having shorter, more frequent meetings than the current six per year, inviting neighborhoods to meetings and surveying residents to get community feedback, and preparing a master plan for the township’s parks.

The committee is working to complete a five-year plan, and Brumbaugh suggested that more council direction could help that process, particularly related to use of fee-in-lieu of parkland funds the township received from The Villas at Happy Valley, the student housing project between Trout Road and Dreibelbis Street.

The township received nearly $600,000, and will be reimbursed for some legal expenses related to reaching a determination on that amount. Brumbaugh said the amount isn’t yet known, but that it will return to the township’s parks budget.

Direction on how to spend those funds will be helpful to the committee, he said, and one suggestion is to build new restrooms or renovate the current facilities at Spring Creek Park instead of, for example, more land acquisition.

“Unless it’s a piece of property to die for, I think most of the times council has said in past years let’s fix what we have or improve what we have,” said Councilman Dave Koll. “ We’ve got parks up the ying-yang.”

In terms of involving the committee in park development, Shoemaker said the township should start with Limerock Court, the low-income apartment project set to come online early next year that has a small park area for which amenities are, as yet, undetermined.

She added that, with the Centre Region’s three regional parks in progress, land acquisition should be limited.

“I think that our land acquisitions should be focused on making those extensions of bike and walking paths that’ll connect the community better or that will make a park more useful or better, rather than going out and looking for available land to purchase,” she said.