LORAIN — The city could lose federal funding if it doesn’t start making headway on projects like the Oakwood Park renovation, said one city official.
Kellie Glenn , interim director of the Building, Housing and Planning Department, said if the funds don’t start getting moved for projects like Oakwood Park, among others, the city stands to lose Community Development Block Grant funds.
“The money has to move and has to be used for things,” she said at a meeting about the Oakwood Park renovation Monday night. “The money could all be gone by November if we don’t start making some headway here.”
Funding for renovating South Lorain’s 68-acre park was a hot-button topic at City Council’s Parks and Recreation Committee meeting, during which Council and community members heard from the newly formed planning committee for the park project and Ohio Department of Natural Resources urban forester Alan Siewert.
There were concerns raised that because part of the park is in a flood plain, and many believed it to be part of wetlands, that federal funds couldn’t be used to help rehab it.
“We knew there was a funding issue, and we’ve gotten some suggestions, like grant funding for the park improvements and for operational funding for the Parks Department as well,” said Parks and Recreation Committee chairman Mitch Fallis, D-at large.
Oakwood Park Planning Committee chairman and former city parks director Bob Renney said, after meeting with the committee for the first time this month, that in addition to the park improvements, the city should look into funding for the public property department that manages the parks.
“It’s not that we don’t think the public property department isn’t doing what it can do,” he said. “It’s grossly underfunded and understaffed. It’s been decimated. There isn’t enough there to take care of a park of that magnitude as well as the others.”
Councilman Joe Koziura, D-at large, said with the city having more than 50 parks it might be trying to deal with too many and should consider cutting back or taking funding to the people.
“I would not even be opposed to talking about a levy to the voters that money be spent on capital improvements to the park,” he said. “It’s something to consider. There’s very few dollars around, and our financial priorities have been with safety forces.”
Koziura said he grew up in South Lorain and played in Oakwood Park as a child but in recent years the day-to-day maintenance has suffered, something Renney and the committee would like to see addressed.
“In general, the main concern is the park has been neglected for a number of years, and it’s been rendered useless,” Renney said. “Park benches, bleachers, grass cutting, weeding, playground, restrooms are the first things that need to be done so people can see it’s not being forgotten. We need to come up with a master plan, but there needs to be care in the immediate future.”
Siewert discussed his study of the park’s trees, which determined that two were extremely dangerous and that more than 100 others also were considered potentially hazardous.
The trees were the root of controversy after residents became concerned in January when more than 50 were removed from the park’s northeast corner in order to start using CDBG funds dedicated to the project.
Renney said the trees didn’t have to come down, noting that if recent windstorms didn’t bring down any trees in the park, then they can’t be in that bad of shape.
“These are on their last leg, but some have 10-, 15-, even 30 years left in them, and no disrespect to the professionals, but I sometimes don’t think you need an arborist to tell you that a tree needs to come down,” he said. “If a tree is standing, and it’s being enjoyed by people just somewhere in the park, it’ll tell you when it’s time to come down.”
Council President Joel Arredondo, who was initially upset by the tree removal, said it was time to move on.
“Let’s not dwell on the past,” he said. “Let’s look to the future. The mayor knows he can’t please everybody. Council can’t please everybody. The public? I’m sorry. You’re not going to get everything you want, but if we work together that’s better than nothing.”