City readies for streetscape project, mulls others’ fates

Gary B. Gray • Feb 12, 2013 at 9:05 PM

City officials continue to weigh the fates of Optimist Park, the Keefauver Farm property and the Princeton Arts Center as part of the city’s 2014-18 capital improvement plan. A streetscape project at Cardinal Park will soon move ahead.

It’s a laborious but crucial process that sets spending priorities and affects virtually every Johnson City citizen, as well as tourists and visitors.

In a recent meeting, Assistant City Manager Bob Wilson flipped through page after page of a large compilation of wants and needs neatly typed on paper and set in a binder.

For starters, Wilson said the $225,500 in-house streetscape project that’s been on hold for the Cardinal Park entrance area will be going forward and it is hoped it will be completed before the Cardinals begin their season in June.

“This price includes $75,000 for fencing that would be brick columns and wrought iron along Legion Street and the old Lonnie Lowe Lane, which will become a pedestrian area and parking lot entrance,” said Public Works Department Director Phil Pindzola. “By doing this we’ll be filling in the entire exterior of the right side of the park. We also included the cost of a ticket office.”

Pindzola also said that when this work is done, plumbing needs should be taken care of that reach into restrooms and other structures at the facility. He has called the area “junky.”

Another decision that needs to be made is how to find an alternative recreation area when Optimist Park is demolished to make way for the new Lark Street extension.

In September, commissioners approved the first phase of a design that will soon lead to construction of two new roadways. The project will lay the initial groundwork for a connection to the other side of West Market that will facilitate the infrastructure needed to develop the area and help open an economic door in and around 30 acres of city-owned land at the former National Guard Armory site.

The first two-lane road will run through the now-rundown Optimist Park and across the current animal shelter property on Sells Avenue.

Johnson City’s Parks and Recreation Department has been planning for about two years to decommission the old park and find new land on which to establish new programs. The city received grant money to make improvements at the park. And the fact that some of that money came from the federal level requires the city to acquire new park land of equal or greater value that would be used by the parks and recreation department before it can initiate the decommission process.

“The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation suggested that the Keefauver Farm, or a portion of it, could be used in the conversion,” said Assistant City Manager Charlie Stahl. “Remember, we have to replace the recreational space.”

Stahl also said local architect Tony Street has been assigned to get the specifications on Fairmont Elementary School’s old gymnasium, which was turned over to the city when a new school was built. It was first thought that move might be the first step in a transition that could result in a new community center, city offices, the new home of the Princeton Arts Center and other uses.

“The patching days are over,” Wilson said about Princeton Arts’ roof.

The center serves as an artistic and cultural arm of the Johnson City Parks and Recreation Department and offers a variety of programs.

A recurring theme — usually generated on the city side — regarding consolidation of city and school maintenance came up again when the discussion turned to Johnson City Schools’ general maintenance.

After Vice Mayor Phil Carriger asked Wilson who had drawn up the list of school projects and plans, Wilson told him school administrators had done so.

“I think it would be better if the city assessed these needs,” Carriger said.

Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin, a former school board member, said the school system would welcome the city’s participation.

“There truly are needs there where I think it would be helpful if the City Commission had a more thorough understanding,” he said.

The following are a few items in the pipeline:

- Construction of the Rails to Trails project, or the Tweetsie Trail, scheduled to begin next year.

- A replacement or alternate site for Legion Pool. The facility, which was opened in 1959, is “starting to get past its usefulness,” Wilson said.

- Possible consolidation of all Parks and Recreation Department maintenance operations to a site on East Main Street.

- Installation of bus stop shelters.

- Additional right-of-way acquisition at the Indian Ridge and State of Franklin road intersection in preparation of a project in 2014 or 2015.

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