Maintenance or new facilities?: Juneau weighs in on Parks and Rec master plan

Juneauites have weighed in on what they want the future of Parks and Recreation services in the city to look like, checking the second box in the department’s two-year effort to develop a new direction.

Parks and Rec released its 172-page “What We Heard” report before the new year. The document is the product of phone and web surveys conducted September through December, where Parks and Rec gauged local interest in Juneau’s changing facilities and programs.

The surveys put the finger on the community’s recreation pulse, according to Parks and Rec Director Kirk Duncan.

“Basically we created a baseline: What does the public want us to look like in the next 10 years?” Duncan said.

Parks and Rec identified hiking as the “overwhelmingly most popular recreational activity” in Juneau. In the past 12 months, 89 percent of Juneau residents used local trails for walking, hiking, running, cross country skiing, biking and other forms of recreation.

Seventy-eight percent of Juneauites ranked city trails as high or very high value to the community. Due to heavy usage and cost-efficiency, trails will likely be a priority compared to other high-cost public requests like a new ice arena in the Mendenhall Valley or turf baseball and softball fields at Adair Kennedy.

“That conversation boils down to economics,” Duncan said. “I think it’s unrealistic to think that we’re going to build any new facilities; I think we need to maintain our existing facilities. Sure, wouldn’t it be nice to have a second sheet of ice in the valley, but economically that’s just not going to happen. We don’t spend a lot of money on trails and trail development and that’s something we’ll have to take a look at. We may need to partner with the Forest Service, the state of Alaska, and make a really good system even better.”

The creation of the “What We Heard” document was the second in a five-step master planning process expected to culminate in the spring of 2018. Parks and Rec hasn’t updated their guiding document since 1997.

Though the public will have several more opportunities to guide the process before Parks and Rec takes its plan to the city Assembly, Parks and Rec has already identified 18 “emerging themes” for which locals expressed the most concern.

While many stated a need for fiscal responsibility, 94 percent of adults in Juneau reported that recreation programs and facilities are a somewhat or very important use of public funds. Seventeen percent of adult residents who did not utilize Parks and Rec facilities and services cited money as a barrier to participation.

“I think we need to do a better job at catering to some of our more economically-challenged people,” Duncan said. “We do have some underserved people, and we realized that, so I think we need to come up with some programs to serve those folks.”

A number of residents stressed the importance of additional programming for seniors, with specific requests citing the importance of Augustus Brown Swimming Pool to local seniors.

In coming years, the pool will require $4.5 million in structural repairs. Fifty-two percent of residents rated Augustus Brown Pool as having very high or high community value and 28 percent of households reported using the facility in the past 12 months.

In terms of new facilities, Parks and Rec identified strong support for turf baseball and softball fields at Adair Kennedy Park.

A number of commenters supported an addition to Treadwell Ice Arena while others suggested building a new ice facility located in the Mendenhall Valley. Many also expressed interest in summer access to Treadwell Arena.

The phone surveys, conducted by the McDowell Group, are scientifically valid, meaning they represent a statistically-significant and representative selection of Juneau’s population; in other words, the phone survey could be said to represent a “mini Juneau” made up of 516 citizens.

Duncan said paying for the phone surveys was important to Parks and Rec’s effort to gauge opinion from a diverse set of citizens who may not always show up to public meetings.

The next step in the master plan process will be for a committee of citizens to comb through the “What We Heard” document and make recommendations. That committee will be tasked with reconciling the public’s contradicting requests.

“There are a bunch of people who want more facilities and a bunch of people who say, ‘don’t build any more facilities.’ There are lots of conflicts,” Duncan said. “A committee of citizens will go through the (What We Heard) document and make recommendations. Those recommendations will then go out to the public, so there will be another round of public input.”

The application process for the Parks and Rec Master Plan Advisory Committee is now open to the public with applications due before Jan. 24. The department is looking for a representative committee of locals whose primary responsibility will be to serve as an objective voice of the public. Those interested can visit www.placespeak.com/cbjparkrec for more information and to apply.

Parks and Rec will take the public’s final recommendations into consideration when drafting their master plan. The draft plan will then be presented to the City Assembly Planning Commission, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee and finally to the City Assembly itself for adoption in spring of 2018.

The idea behind such a long process is simple, Duncan said: the department wants to give itself ample time to polish a finished product before presenting it to the Assembly.

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