With more than 70 parks , 11 recreation centers and eight other facilities such as the WNC Nature Center, Asheville’s Parks & Recreation Department is tasked with not only managing these facilities, but also with maintaining them.
Along with routine care of facilities comes the eventual need for repairs or upgrades as equipment wears out or community needs change.
Such upgrades are often driven by community requests. If the facility has outgrown its intended use and the community would like to adapt it to meet its current needs, then City staff begin a community engagement process.
“We have a community meeting to better understand how the community wants to use the space,” said Parks & Recreation Director Roderick Simmons.
The issue may be simple routine maintenance that can be addressed right away. Or it could be larger in scope.
“First we look at the current conditions in order to identify the best approach to address the community’s desire to maximize the use of the facility,” said Simmons.
After getting community input, staff often crafts a draft design that is then taken back to the community for further input. That process can be repeated two or three times, depending on the needs of the community and the complexity of the project, particularly when it evolves to the point of developing a facility or park master plan.
What is a master plan?
A master plan is a vision for a space. When new community input is introduced or resource availability changes, the vision set forth in a master plan can change. The one thing that does not change is the opportunity for the community to be part of the conversation.
Two Asheville Parks & Recreation facilities are undergoing that process currently: the Linwood Crump Shiloh Center and the Montford Recreation Complex.
Two community meetings and online opportunities have been held with the Shiloh community, first to access needs, and then to present a draft plan. That master plan process is ongoing.
A coordinated response and evolving process
In the case of the Montford Recreation Complex, several maintenance and community needs surfaced so the Parks & Recreation staff began a community engagement process to help integrate needed upgrades holistically with a new master plan. This 17-acre community park features a gymnasium, sports field, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, tennis courts, a natural area, restrooms, and the Hazel Robinson Amphitheater, home of the Montford Park Players. It also featured an outdated playground that was out of Americans with Disability Act (ADA) compliance and had to be removed.
Neighbors told the City inadequate parking at the facility was impacting their ability to access their driveways. At the same time, the Montford Park Players received a grant for enhancements at the Hazel Robinson Amphitheater.
“Rather than address these issues individually, we engaged the community for input so staff could begin work on a new master plan,” said Simmons.
The City held three community meetings to gather input for staff to develop master plan — one meeting in April 2014 and two in June 2014.
With that information, the City hired Site Design Studio to draft a master plan. They presented the plan to the City in February 2015.
So what happens after a master plan is crafted for a new park or facility? The whole plan is not necessarily funded or implemented right away.
“Rather, we use the master plan as a guide to make our decisions on any improvement on the site going forward,” said Simmons. “We use it as a planning tool when we make improvements.”
In the wake of this process, some concern has been raised on the future of some community-planted fruit and nut trees at the Montford Recreation Complex. Could parking expansion or safer visibility for active play areas endanger them?
While the master plan suggests relocation some of the trees, no action is currently being taken to remove the fruit trees.
To further engage the community, members of the Buncombe Fruit and Nut Club will be invited to speak before the next Recreation Board meeting March 14, 12:30 p.m. in the first floor conference room at City Hall. The Recreation Board advises City Council on various matters pertaining to the operation of park facilities and recreation programs within the City of Asheville, to make policy recommendations to the City Council.
For more information and to keep up with developments, visit the Montford Center Complex Master Plan project page on the City of Asheville website.