COLUMBIA CITY — Columbia City’s Common Council had the first of many discussions on plans for the future of the city’s parks department.
The department will grow by 56 acres in 2020, when the current Columbia City High School property is turned over to the city after the completion of the new Columbia City High School, which will be located south of the city on SR 9.
The high school building itself will be demolished, but much of the athletic facilities will remain, such as the football field and track, baseball field, locker rooms and weight room.
The property also have several acres of wooded area and the potential to connect with Morsches Park via a bridge over the Blue River.
JPR and Moake Park Group have been tasked with assisting the city in making a master plan for the site, which begins with community input and committee meetings. The company has an online survey for area residents, which can be found at columbiacity.net.
The survey will remain open through July 10, and JPR will meet with key focus groups this month, as well as hosting a community workshop.
In August and September, JPR will seek input from local youth, including the Columbia City Youth Council and ideas from students at local elementary schools.
It is expected that a preliminary conceptual design will be presented in September, and a final master plan will be completed by October.
JPR has broken down the land into three sections — a western zone, central zone, and eastern zone.
The western zone includes the high school building, as well as the Russel & Evelyn Fahl Aquatics Center.
The central zone includes the athletic amenities, such as the football and baseball fields.
The eastern zone includes the natural woodland/wetland areas and the Blue River.
A representative from JPR spoke to the council at its meeting last week, allowing for public comment.
“We want to make sure we understand exactly what the citizens of Columbia City deem important — not just today, but for decades to come,” he said.
Rob Bell, who has been a teacher at Columbia City High School for 18 years, is the varsity baseball coach and served on the JFL and baseball boards for the park, said retaining the football field for use by youth would be an asset to the community.
“We’ve not had a full-size football field for JFL,” Bell said.
He also suggested the baseball field be kept, as it has a grass infield and there is a high demand for fields in Columbia City.
“Having those two assets already there is a huge benefit,” Bell said.
Head football coach Brett Fox also spoke at the meeting, echoing Bell’s sentiment on keeping the athletic fields, and also suggested the park add more attractions, similar to the new aquatics facility.
“I see Homestead and Garrett bumper stickers at the pool,” Fox said. “It’s something to draw people in.”
The idea of an indoor sports facility was also discussed.
Margaret Malcolm approached the council, questioning funding for the potential new amenities.
“All of the ideas sound great, but what’s the budget for this?” she asked.
“The short answer is — we have to have a plan moving forward before we can set the budget. The city will fund a fair amount of this, but we will solicit for contributions, like we did for the aquatics center, trails, etc.,” Mayor Ryan Daniel said. “My assumption is, this will be a phased project.”
Theresa Green suggested the addition of a dog park. Councilman Dan Weigold brought up the idea of an amphitheater and educational places in the wooded areas.
Councilwoman Nicole Penrod agreed with retaining the athletic fields, and Fire Chief Tom LaRue suggested adding an archery range.
“We have ordinances against archery in the city limits — it would give an opportunity to those who don’t have the ability to have a target in their backyard,” he said.
Park Director Mark Green said some attractions from Morsches Park could be relocated to the new park, allowing for more opportunities at Morsches — such as the proposed idea of moving the skate park to the new property.
“We need to be creative about this space,” Daniel said. “Not just serving our citizens, but being an attraction. We’ve talked for eons about struggling to have an identity — to bring people in. We’ve been able to see through the aquatics center as one option of how to attract and draw people in from the outside.”