COLUMBIA — If you haven’t noticed, Columbia has had quite a few new toilets and tennis courts pop up over the past five years — all funded in whole or part by the 2005 park sales tax.
Six new neighborhood parks have been built, too, and improvements have been made at six elementary school parks as well as two aquatic facilities.
“This is an investment in our future as a community — for our children and grandchildren to have a high standard of living as we grow outward,” First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz said. “This is a way for us to maintain and to preserve parks for many generations."
The one-eighth-cent park sales tax that paid for these projects and several others is set to expire in March. The tax was first approved by voters in 2000 and extended in 2005. Voting “yes” on Proposition 1 on Tuesday would extend the tax again.
The city has largely made good on the promises it made in 2005.
Twenty of the 27 capital projects proposed to voters five years ago have been completed; three are listed as “substantially completed”; three are labeled with “construction under way” and one has its “planning in progress.”
“Very similar to the (current) 2010 proposal, one of the main priorities in 2005 was to take care of our existing park system,” Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood said.
He outlined four main project “themes” that ran through the 2005 park sales tax: restrooms, tennis courts, aquatic facilities and new park development.
In addition to the extensive list posted on the city's website, here’s a run-down of what’s been done:
Aging, outdated facilities were replaced at Cosmopolitan, Cosmo-Bethel and Kiwanis parks. The two Cosmopolitan Park potties were more than 50 years old, Hood said, and the Cosmo-Bethel bathroom was pushing three decades.
“Restrooms are the one thing we get a lot of public comment on, the need for restrooms and the need to have well-maintained, clean restrooms,” Hood said.
“The old courts that were there had actually been built on top of the old runway,” Hood said, in describing the new use for the former municipal airport site. “They had taken one end of the runway and basically overlaid (it) with asphalt and had painted out tennis courts on that area.”
Fairview Park got a four-court face-lift. The courts there had “outlived their life expectancy,” Hood said, and they were also removed and replaced in 2007. If the tax is extended again, the potential 2010 park sales tax would fund the addition of parking spaces to accommodate the courts.
“We wanted to get up to the 12-court number to basically be able to program some of the larger tennis competitions and tennis events,” Hood said. “Particularly some of the tournaments that the schools help to host.”
“(The master plan) probably dates back to the early 1990s, but we had never had the funding to build the courts,” Hood said.
Tim Gilbreth described the new courts at Cosmo-Bethel Park as “outstanding.”
“It’s really nice to have (them) available,” he said during a visit to Stephens Lake Park earlier this month.
The pool at Douglass Park dates back to the 1930s, Hood said. The plumbing and mechanical systems, waterslide and pool itself were renovated and a climbing wall was added in 2007; changes to the bathhouse were completed in 2009.
A “sprayground” also was installed at Douglass Park so kids can keep cool even after the pool closes.
“When school starts, pool season ends,” Hood said. “But it doesn’t necessarily mean hot weather ends.”
“When that bathhouse was built (in the 1970s), family changing rooms just weren’t anything that was even heard of,” he said.
Improvements also were made to the concession area and locker rooms. According to the Parks and Recreation website, this project is “substantially completed.” Some of the remaining money is being used to bring the pool’s drains up to the federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.
In 2009, Phase 1 of the Thomas E. "Country" Atkins Jr. Memorial Park development was completed. Slightly more than $1 million of this nearly $1.5 million project came from park sales tax revenue collected in 2007 and 2008.
Two lighted baseball fields, an irrigation lake and gravel parking lot were installed. If Proposition 1 passes, the city would continue with Phase 2 of this five-field complex by adding a third field, a permanent restroom, a concession stand and possibly batting cages, Hood said.
The first phase of development at A. Perry Philips Park — which included fishing amenities and a lake trail — was funded by the 2005 park sales tax as well as a grant from the Missouri Department of Conservation. This project is listed on the website as substantially completed.
“There’s more money scheduled in the 2010 (park sales tax) to continue the development of those two properties,” Hood said.
“We’re pretty happy there was finally a place that some kids could chill at,” Holly Bates, 15, said of the Auburn Hills park.
“I just come to meet some of my friends,” her friend Brayden Austin, 15, said.
Many younger children enjoy the park as well. “We’ll hear them giggling and laughing on the (play equipment),” Bates said.
Bonnie View Park is the only project with planning still “in progress.”
When the community started talking in the early 2000s about how to develop this property, there was disagreement regarding whether to preserve its natural qualities or extend Cunningham Road through it as part of the city’s transportation master plan, Hood said.
The discussion eventually was "tabled indefinitely pending availability of funds,” he added.
When voters approved the 2005 park sales tax, city officials put Bonnie View Park low on their list of priorities. Funding finally became available in the 2010 budget, and planning has resumed. The road has been removed from the city’s master transportation plan, so that is no longer a hot-button issue.
“Our goal is to have a plan that is approved by both the Parks and Recreation Commission and the City Council by next spring, and we’d like to have the project — whatever the final project turns out to be — under construction next spring and early summer.”
Sturtz said he is pleased with what the city and Parks and Recreation Department have done with the 2005 park sales tax revenue.
“Staff has done an excellent job,” he said. “I think all the different renovations and additions have been embraced by the users of the parks.”