Town Square Park, ballfields wrapping up construction
By Craig Howard
You could say it's been a winning season for capital projects in Liberty Lake.
Town Square Park and the Liberty Lake Ballfields, two long-awaited additions to the city's greenspace inventory, have sprung up this summer, turning once bleak, weed-ridden plots into future municipal landmarks.
"Overall, both projects have gone extremely well," said City Administrator Katy Allen. "The contractors have done a good job, and we've all worked together to stay on budget and on schedule. I know that our mayor and Council are looking forward to opening the Ballfields and Town Square so our community can enjoy more outdoor activities in Liberty Lake."
The construction crew for the Ballfields wrapped up their work on Aug. 14. City crews are now managing grow-in of the recently installed turf along with the irrigation system. Allen said the expectation is to have both baseball diamonds ready when the season opens next spring. The city will host a field allocation meeting at 4 p.m. Sept. 12 at City Hall for groups interested in reserving space for 2015.
Town Square Park is on track for completion in mid-to-late-September, Allen said. Work is now underway on several aspects of the project, including the archway, parking lot and restroom. Landscaping and sidewalks are also being added. The latest Fallen Heroes Circuit Course, funded separately from the park construction, is scheduled to open by Veterans Day this November.
"I'm really proud of both of these projects as a demonstration of progress - visible, material action on the part of the city," said Council Member Dan Dunne. "We've gone several years now with no significant ground-up facility improvements, so these are great to see."
Savings on both projects allowed the city to add sod to the properties. Allen said seeding of grass at each site was viewed as problematic due to high temperatures this summer, higher evaporation rates and the challenge of keeping people off the grounds. Mowing sod will also mean less wear and tear on equipment over the first three years of maintenance.
City Council established the budgets for Town Square Park at $785,000 and $885,000 for the Ballfields, respectively. Both totals include design costs, construction and construction management. Allen noted that both projects "are tracking well within the budget that was approved by council."
Last fall, it was uncertain whether the Ballfields would make it out of the municipal bullpen. Following an initial split vote, however, the City Council reconvened later and, by a 5-2 vote, approved the base contract for phase one of the Ballfields that would include a pair of baseball diamonds, a parking lot and paved walking path.
"The baseball fields are way overdue," said Mayor Pro Tem Cris Kaminskas. "I've been a huge supporter of this project, but I had my doubts because I wasn't sure how the rest of the council members felt, especially with the amount of turnover we've had in the last few years."
The city purchased the site from the Central Valley School District in the fall of 2012. The CVSD Board of Directors approved the sale for a symbolic $10 that November with the understanding that the district could buy back the land sometime over the next 99 years for the same amount plus the value of any improvements the city makes during its tenure.
CVSD Superintendent Ben Small has assured city leaders that the fields are compatible with any district plans to build on the site.
"This is for the betterment of our community as we move forward," Small said.
Mayor Steve Peterson acknowledged Small and the CVSD board as "the key to the Ballfields."
"Second were the baseball enthusiasts like Jennifer Tomlinson and her crew as well as our council," Peterson added.
Tomlinson, co-founder of the Eastside Little League, was part of a committee along with Allen, City Engineer Andrew Staples, a handful of residents and several City Council members that researched various options for the project. One of the initial ideas included a complex with four baseball diamonds, a multipurpose field, parking lot and trails at a pricetag of $2.5 million.
Town Square Park was identified as a top priority by City Council at its retreat last summer. Allen provided the governing board with a history of the property that September, noting that the comprehensive plan established in 2003 included mention of "a public presence in the central business district."
The city purchased 6.4 acres in the center of town along Meadowwood Lane in 2005 for $1.75 million. A plan later emerged to build a community center and library on the site, although a $9.8 million bond to fund the idea failed resoundingly at the ballot in April 2008. The project suffered another setback last year when a state grant fell through.
Council finally approved the development of a 2-acre rendition of Town Square Park on May 20 by a vote of 5-1.
Kaminskas said Town Square Park did not garner her vote until the city "broke the project down to only address the 2-acre Town Square Park and more details were available for that piece."
"I was not a supporter of the master plan for the 6.4 acres," Kaminskas said. "The original plan goes back too far and is not relevant to what our needs are today. It's something the council needs to revisit."
Peterson said the city's representation at the Liberty Lake Farmers Market helped generate awareness and support for the Town Square project.
"It was sitting at the Market for 17 Saturdays telling our story to the community," he said. "They rallied around the vision."
The Spokane Transit Authority will contribute $81,000 to the project in order to add parking around a nearby Park and Ride transfer station.
"I'd say Mayor Peterson lent considerable energy to the Town Square Park project," Dunne said. "... Town Square will provide a central green space for the businesses and employees of the city, a place to pause and enjoy a sunny day."