Soft Ball

A player dives for the ball, during a game at the Grandview Softball Complex on Southwest 52nd Street. While the first parks and recreation project to be funded through the 2020 Capital Improvements Program will be a parks master plan, city officials have indicated Grandview and Ahlschlager Park athletic fields are among the upgrades they want to see.

The 2020 Capital Improvements Program includes a broad category of projects that can be lumped under the heading of quality of life.

Projects range from a master plan that will help set the priorities for parks and recreation upgrades and an indoor youth sports complex, to additional money to fund demolition of dilapidated structures while “beefing up” the city’s bulk solid waste pickup program. With voter approval of the sales tax extension proposal on Feb. 11, City of Lawton administrators said the projects will help provide a more livable community that will attract young families.

Allocations total $20 million to what city administrators describe as Parks and Recreation. The category includes up to $8 million for an indoor youth sports complex, a project initiated by community leaders that would match CIP funds with private donations to provide construction and start-up operations for the self-supporting complex.

On the City of Lawton side, one of the top priorities is a parks master plan, something Parks and Recreation Director Jack Hanna said is vital.

“Clarity,” Hanna said, explaining the master plan will provide city staff with clarity and direction in its decisions.

Hanna said the intent is to hire a private firm to analyze the city’s parks and recreation facilities, with an emphasis on what needs to be done with them because city leaders don’t want “to begin building things without comparing notes.” A master plan will help align needs and costs, he said, adding the city “will not spend any money” until that analysis is done to ensure the top priorities are identified.

“The staff will have a road map, a bible that provides direction,” he said, adding that while city staff — particularly those in the parks and recreation area — have their own ideas, an independent eye will provide clarity.

City Manager Michael Cleghorn called it a strategic plan, one that will identify the City of Lawton’s best practices and highlight how it should allocate its resources. Deputy City Manager Bart Hadley said the City Council will remain part of that process: once the master plan is done, it will be presented to the council for discussion and adoption.

Hanna said the process will take about a year, according to the companies that city administrators have approached. That process will include collection of data from the Parks and Recreation Department, and public meetings with the Parks and Recreation Commission and the general public to ensure they are included.

It’s a contracted process expected to cost $150,000 to $200,000, out of the $20 million allocated in the 2020 CIP for parks and recreation, Cleghorn said.

“A lot of communities use it to move forward into the future, CIP-related or not,” he said.

“It’s a great investment: here’s a road map,” Hanna said.

Hanna said parks and recreation involves more than athletic fields. Generally speaking, it is parks and open spaces, athletic fields and swimming pools, arts and humanities, recreation centers, and things that support those activities. He said it focuses not only on youth, but on families, providing activities that make for a better community.

That’s why the 2020 CIP also would designate $250,000 to programs coordinated by the Arts and Humanities Council, an entity that coordinates Lawton’s annual International Festival. Those funds would allow the council to partner with others to award grants, city officials said.

Waiting on the final master plan doesn’t mean Hanna and his staff don’t have their own ideas about priorities. For example, there has been lengthy discussion of athletic fields, looking at lights, bleachers, concession stands and field conditions, as well as general maintenance. Hanna said athletic-related activities are important.

“Youth participation is increasing,” he said, noting there has been a 23 to 26 percent increase in participation in recent years.

Participation may be increasing but city budget allocations have not, and it shows. Hadley, a life-long Lawton resident, said his grandchildren now are playing “on the same fields that I played on, and my dad played on.”

Coming Monday: Funding for economic development

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