LORAIN — Improvements coming to Oakwood Park this year won’t be close to the scale of the massive renovation plan introduced last year.
Building, Housing and Planning Director Leon Mason said because the city halted work on the park’s master plan after residents expressed concerns about the removal of the park’s namesake trees, it’s no longer eligible to use federal dollars on maintenance.
“They’re not releasing any federal funds because we’re not currently following through on the master plan,” Mason said. “We also have to deal with the flooding issue before they’ll release any more money.”
The city planned to solve Oakwood Park’s flooding problem by clearing out more than 310 trees, most of which were more than 100 years old and past their useful life, or diseased, according to city officials.
After the trees were removed and their stumps grinded, the city was going to grade the park’s landscape to prevent future flooding and to make way for improvements including new baseball fields, a football field, a splash pad, a new sledding hill, a pond, a picnic shelter and a trail connector with the Lorain County Metro Parks.
However, after receiving backlash from the community following removal of the first 60 trees, Mayor Chase Ritenauer announced at the Jan. 23 City Council meeting that the work was being stalled to better gauge what residents want out of the space.
Safety-Service Director Dan Given said the city would bring in the state’s Forestry Division to mark the trees that are healthy and the ones that are dangerous in order to get a second opinion.
The city is gathering quotes for the lumber that already has been cut and also will gather costs to rent a stump grinder. Given said the city was going to use its own stump grinder for the project, but its average strength doesn’t compare to other ones on the market.
“Our stump grinder is what the average person would use on their property,” he said. “It takes about an hour to grind up a single stump. The industrial strength ones can do the same work in about 60 seconds, and in the long run, renting one of those is cheaper than paying our guys to do the work.”
Another component of flood mitigation at the park will be the removal of an underground storage tank that sits to the south of the maintenance building. Mason said the tank likely was placed there when the city used the area as a fueling station.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, approximately 563,000 underground storage tanks nationwide store petroleum or other hazardous substances. Given said it could cost as much as $35,000 to remove the one from the park.
“It was used for fuel and now we’re reaching the point where that’s seeping into the soil, but we don’t know to what degree until we get down there,” he said. “So between the removal, the possible cleanup and filling the area back in, that dollar amount is worse-case scenario.”
The city also plans to redo the paths at the park, clean up the playground area and baseball field No. 3 so it can become usable again, and possibly renovate the bathroom area near the gazebo.
Baseball fields No. 1 and No. 2 are functioning, and field No. 4 needs to be rebuilt but no work will take place on it in 2017.
Councilman Angel Arroyo, D-6th Ward, said he hopes the city sticks to its promise of holding off major renovations until the community can be consulted.
“They must focus on removing those stumps and repairing the waterlines,” Arroyo, whose ward houses the park, said. “Anything else is unacceptable to me, the residents of my ward and anyone else that utilizes Oakwood Park. The picture of the finished park is awesome, but it never was approved by Council last year to start the project after the committee meeting in June. I’ve made some suggestions to the mayor. I just hope we can work together to fix the park.”
Given said the park’s waterlines are turned off until spring, but the city doesn’t have money for the necessary upgrades and is seeking funds elsewhere.
“We just don’t have access to major funding right now because we’ve halted the master plan,” Given said. “So this is really just stuff that our service staff is going to be capable of doing for this upcoming year.”