Glen Arbor Park expansion: how much will voters approve?

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By Linda Alice Dewey
Sun contributor

Renovation and expansion is on the docket for the Glen Arbor Park, home of the township’s only public playground and tennis courts. Some improvements are scheduled to commence in late August, regardless of the results of an August 8 bond election. The rest depends on voters.

Glen Arbor park commissioner Rick Schanhals has worked hard on this endeavor with the commission and several Glen Arbor residents for the past two years. He says the project will add to, and upgrade, the current playground equipment, add three pickleball courts behind the existing tennis courts and near the hardware store, upgrade and enlarge the current basketball court/ice skating area, develop the garden areas, and add a picnic area. A sidewalk will run around and through the park, leading to and from a covered pavilion area for shade, which will be moved from the current location. And—wait for it—there will be complete toilet facilities, fulfilling a major need for Glen Arbor in the summertime.

A few details on the project are available on the “Glen Arbor Park Improvement Project” Facebook Page, but here’s the rundown.

Phase 1

Phase 1 is already paid for, thanks to a $20,000 grant from the Health Department of Northwest Michigan and $60,000 from Glen Arbor Township funds. It includes new picnic tables and sidewalks, which will fulfill the grant’s purpose of promoting walking and biking, as well as ensuring handicapped accessibility.

Work on Phase 1 will be finished by the end of September. In addition to supplementing the grant project, the township portion will also pay for planning, says park commissioner Ron Calsbeek. “The combined figure in not enough to make the park fully accessible, but it will help. So even if the millage doesn’t pass, the money will be well spent. That also applies to money directed toward planning costs. Someday the park will have to be brought up to standards set by the state. When that day comes, the engineering will have been paid for and ready for implementation.”

The importance of accessibility was recently highlighted for Glen Arbor resident Georgia Gietzen, owner of Northwoods Home & Gift. “I had a customer in over the July 4 weekend who had a handicapped daughter,” Gietzen said. “She asked me if there were any parks or playgrounds around that [are] handicap accessible.  She said the current park in Glen Arbor had nothing her daughter could participate in. I did direct her to Pierce Stocking Drive and the accessible walkways to vistas. They had done that and really just wanted a “playground” area now, thanks to the Facebook page, I knew there was a park improvement project underway, and the most I could do was let this lady know that I would pass along her desire as a visitor to the area.”

“Afterwards,” she added, “I did reflect a bit on how easy it is, if we’re not affected by a particular circumstance in life, to dismiss it as not important. But the look on this woman’s face—the disappointment that we didn’t have a park that was accessible—told me that this is an ongoing challenge for them as they travel. We are so blessed to have this sweet little park in Glen Arbor that gets used by so many kids and adults—yet not all.”

Phase 2

The balance of the project—Phase 2—will go to the voters on Aug. 8. It features the replacement and upgrading of the current playground equipment, which was installed by volunteers 15 years ago. “The improved playground will emphasize climbing equipment, spinners (both multiple and individual), several new swings, a new four-person teeter totter, and a play set for the 2- to 5-year-olds,” said Schanhals. “It will look and play completely different than the current playground. In addition, the playground surface will be EMF (engineered wood fiber), which will make the park equipment ADA accessible.”

Phase 2 goes to Glen Arbor voters on Aug. 8. “We will be asking the electorate to vote on a $650,000 bond to complete the project,” said Schanhals. It will be the only item on the ballot. “It is exciting, long overdue. The efforts to improve the park started over seven years ago,” which is when commissioners began “throwing around ideas.” Serious talks began four years ago.

“The millage is for one quarter mill for seven years,” said Calsbeek. “This means that a homeowner will pay $25 for each $100,000 of assessed valuation for seven years.” The bond will be paid back via the new property tax over those seven years.

Will it pass?

Historically, Glen Arbor voters have been generous when it comes to proposals for improvements, such as the streetscape at the turn of the 21st century, the new fireboat several years ago, and school millage elections over the years.

That trend is far from certain. In May, a Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) property tax proposal barely squeaked through in Glen Arbor, with a vote of 84 to 82.

This one might not be a slam-dunk, either. Some have voiced concern over the unnatural hard surfaces. Some citizens are worried about rising taxes. Some don’t feel the need to improve anything. “I’ve enjoyed it just how it is for many years; it’s perfect,” said Glen Arbor resident Julie Lattimore. “I never had a problem pushing a stroller. It’s quaint and lovely.”

Others, including seasonal Glen Arborites, view the plan positively. “As a summer resident with no vote, I hope it passes,” said Barbara Kausler. “What a huge improvement to the park and Glen Arbor!”

“The reality is that the park is charming for those who have good mobility (not using a wheel chair, are not on crutches, have no trouble walking in sand,” added Calsbeek. “Those of us who use the park a lot have frequently heard comments from the elderly about how difficult it is to play with their grandchildren in the playground area. The sand makes it very difficult for those with physical limitations. Even young parents have told us that the sand is a nightmare because it is not clean; and the kids who play in it come home in need of extensive maintenance. The new park will address all of those issues.

“Another reality is that the park is getting much more use than it ever has in the past,” Calsbeek said. “Cyclists, picnickers, volleyball players and even pickleball players have taken to using the park as best they can. In the case of pickleball, this has resulted in some damage to the tennis courts because the visitors taped pickleball lines on the court surface.”

At least 100 people currently play pickleball in Glen Arbor. The game attracts seniors and athletes alike and fosters not only a great workout, but enhances the sense of community as players get to know one another.

Calsbeek points out yet another issue. “Toilet facilities are nonexistent in the spring, fall and winter, and the park must rely on a portable toilet during the very busy summer months. (The new park will) provide decent toilet facilities that will also allow for diaper changing and hand washing. And, most importantly, it will be accessible.”

Finally, “a walking path around the entire park will allow parents to get some exercise while they supervise their children at play. We are determined to keep the park charming,” he said. “To that end, we carefully selected an engineering firm, one that has lots of experience in northern Michigan, and we have involved several local citizens to ensure the charm factor and the quality are preserved and enhanced.

If approved, work on Phase 2 is slated to begin in the fall and to be completed next spring.