Traverse City News and Events

Splash Pad Upgrades, School Resource Officer, DDA Projects On City Agenda

By Beth Milligan | Sept. 10, 2022

Traverse City commissioners will discuss a proposal Monday to invest nearly $109,000 into upgrades at the city’s Clinch Park splash pad that will improve its accessibility for all users, reduce water and energy waste, and allow the splash pad to run more autonomously – freeing up staff time for other park projects. Commissioners will also discuss proposals to add a school resource officer at Traverse City Central High School, create a neighborhood enterprise zone in downtown Traverse City, and convert State Street, Pine Street, and Boardman Avenue to two-way streets.

Clinch Park Splash Pad
A $300,000 settlement the City of Traverse City accepted in 2016 from Hamilton Anderson Associates – the firm the city blamed for design flaws in the Clinch Park splash pad – could help pay for a series of new upgrades at the waterscape.

City commissioners will discuss a proposal to put settlement funds towards a $108,746 contract – plus a 15 percent contingency of $16,311 – with Vortex, a leading firm in splash pad installations. According to a memo from City Parks and Recreation Superintendent Michelle Hunt, the city has been reliant on working with local pool companies in recent years that have “marginal knowledge of splash pad systems.” Additionally, due to the splash pad’s age and condition, city staff can’t rely on automatic chemical feeds and on/off functions and instead must manually oversee operations, “which detracts from park maintenance, forestry work, beach grooming, and other summer tasks,” Hunt says. That’s in contrast with other local splash pads that operate with minimal staff supervision, such as in Kingsley and Blair Township, according to Hunt.

Under the contract proposal, Vortex will install rain and wind sensors that will allow the Clinch Park splash pad to gauge weather conditions and adjust operations automatically. Chemical levels can also be balanced automatically, and each half of the splash pad will be under its own activator, meaning the big arch would shut down if people aren’t under it for a certain period of time (activity would reactivate the splash pad). A new Cascade River feature would allow for “hands-on water exploration through flow play and interactive waves and orbs,” amenities that are accessible to a wide range of users and encourage “collaborative play by allowing many children to play at the same time,” according to a memo from Vortex.

The planned upgrades will “greatly” reduce the amount of water, chemicals, and energy used at the splash pad, Hunt says. Vortex is available to complete the upgrades this fall and spring “with no interruption to the splash pad opening next summer 2023,” Hunt says. “Our goal with this project is to have the upgrades in place by opening day 2023 for the public to enjoy.”

School Resource Officer
Traverse City Police Department Chief Jeff O’Brien will discuss a proposal with commissioners Monday to reestablish a school resource officer (SRO) at Traverse City Central High School at the request of Traverse City Area Public Schools. TCAPS hopes to take advantage of an expanded grant program approved in the new state budget, which allocated an additional $25 million for on-campus SROs. The state will cover 50 percent of the cost of an SRO, with the school covering 25 percent and the district’s local law enforcement agency – which would be the official employer of the SRO – covering the remaining 25 percent. Because Central High is in the City of Traverse City, TCPD would be the partnering law enforcement agency for an SRO at that school.

In a memo to commissioners, O’Brien called the SRO program – which TCPD previously ran at TCAPS from 1982-2019 – “one of the most important, successful, and long-term programs” within the police department. “We feel the benefits of this program are reflected in the deterrent effect and improved social climate offered by having a police officer on campus, the feeling of safety due to having an armed police officer daily in the school, the administrative efficiency gained, personal relationships gained between the officer and the student body, and the direct access to law enforcement services right on campus,” O’Brien wrote.

According to O’Brien’s memo, TCAPS hopes to engage in a two-year contract for an SRO at Central High School and “would like to execute a contract within the next 30 days.” According to TCAPS Superintendent Dr. John VanWagoner, “the key goal that we have by placing a SRO at Central High School is for law enforcement to work side by side with administrators, teachers, support staff, students and parents in an effort to build relationships that will help to reduce criminal activity, substance abuse, and violent acts in and around our school buildings and our community.”

Downtown Enterprise Zone
Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) CEO Jean Derenzy will discuss a proposal with commissioners Monday to establish a neighborhood enterprise zone (NEZ) in downtown Traverse City. An NEZ is a state tool that allows communities to create a defined zone where property tax reductions are available in exchange for developers constructing or rehabilitating residential housing. Derenzy says NEZs could provide opportunities to build more rental apartments downtown targeted to the “missing middle” salary range of local workers.

NEZs are established for a period of 6 to 15 years and can be designated in more than one spot in the city. They must contain at least 10 platted parcels of land, which need to be compact and contiguous. Under state NEZ rules, each individual property owner within the zone must apply for the tax exemption if interested. It is not automatically granted to owners and only applies to the residential housing portion of developments, not the land or any commercial components. A typical NEZ might see taxes reduced by 53 percent in years one through 12 and then by 11 percent in year 13, seven percent in year 14, and four percent in year 15, with the exemption eliminated thereafter.

Derenzy wants to seek commission feedback and answer any questions about NEZs before formally bringing a proposal forward for approval. She says NEZs are an example of a legislative tool that should be explored as city leaders “look at opportunities to support and provide for a range of housing options, including workforce housing.”

Two-Way Street Conversion
Derenzy will also discuss the results of a traffic circulation study Monday that recommends piloting the conversion of State Street, Pine Street, and Boardman Avenue to two-way traffic in downtown Traverse City. DDA board members unanimously voted in June to accept the recommendation of the study and forward it to city commissioners for consideration and approval. Converting State, Pine, and Boardman on a trial basis for two years – with the potential to expand the pilot to four years if needed – will allow the DDA to “implement, iterate, tweak, adjust, monitor, and operate mobility infrastructure all while coordinating the timing of the pilot with construction and maintenance activities,” according to Chris Zull of consulting firm Progressive AE.

Derenzy has allocated $400,000 in the 2022-23 DDA budget pay for upgrades at the Larry C. Hardy Parking Garage to accommodate two-way traffic on State Street. That would include reversing the current exit and entry lanes and installing a new ticketing island and additional pay stations. Benefits of two-way streets included slower vehicle speeds, improved transit and traffic flow, and increased accessibility to businesses, according to consultants.

City commissioners meet Monday at 7pm at the Governmental Center at 400 Boardman Avenue. Because the meeting is a study session, commissioners won’t act on the above items but instead give feedback to staff before potentially voting on the proposals at a future meeting.

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