After a 31-year partnership, the city of Ashland and the YMCA are likely going their separate ways, at least as far as YMCA Park is concerned.
The city Parks & Recreation Commission is recommending deeding the 6.56-acre park property on Tolman Creek Road adjacent to the Y back to the Y for $480,000 to cover the current value of improvements the city did to the area, including a play structure, soccer fields, restrooms and parking lot. The land itself belonged to the YMCA when the original agreement was made three decades ago.
The city of Ashland views it as an access issue. "At this time ... it is clear that the park is disproportionately used by the YMCA for their growing programs," according to a staff report prepared for the Ashland City Council's meeting on Tuesday, when it will consider the proposal, "which limits the 'free play' time at the park to those times the YMCA does not have the facilities reserved." A sign posted at the park Saturday says the park is reserved for YMCA use from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, essentially leaving the public park only available for public use one day a week.
The shared park and field belonged originally to the Y, but they deeded it to the city at zero cost with the city parks department in exchange for improvements and maintenance and the promise they would let the general public use the park. The maintenance costs which the city currently takes care runs $35,000 to $50,000 per year, according to the staff report.
“Over time there has to be an equal trade and benefit,” says Michael Black, Parks Director. “What it’s turned into is the YMCA uses it a lot for their programming. They can exclude people from using the park who aren’t part of the YMCA and that’s a majority of the time.”
Black says it no longer makes sense for the city to maintain a facility the public doesn’t have much access to, so a new plan is now in motion. “It’s now time to split and build a park next door that would be open all year, to all citizens with no restrictions and not having to worry about the YMCA using it,” says Black.
The YMCA agrees. “Our programs have grown a lot and we have need of that space — it seems like a winning solution for all involved,” says Laurie Schaaf, associate director of the Y.
“It’s disproportionate public use,” comments Black, who also says the new plan would be to use the roughly three acres adjacent to the YMCA park for a fully public area where the city can build playgrounds, provide parking, restrooms, shaded picnic areas and perhaps a dog park. “We really need a dog park on that side of town,” says Black.
They’ll use the $488,000 from the YMCAand an additional $260,000 in capital improvement money to create this new park, which doesn’t yet have a name but has a preliminary plan. “I want to emphasize that public parks should be public,” says Black. “By re-investing next door we’re putting in a truly public piece of property people can enjoy anytime.”
When the agreement with the Y was made 31 years ago, the city didn’t have a recreation program and the YMCA did. By pooling resources, the city figured the Y would share its programming and the city would share its ability to improve the space. It worked for three decades, but now the YMCA’s success makes it less workable, creating a need for them to take over the area. “It makes it easier to plan our programs and know precisely what’s going to be happening on the fields without checking with the Parks department,” says Schaaf.
“It doesn’t make sense to continue on this way,” Black says.
Both the city of Ashland and the YMCA consider it a win-win situation. “We worked together on this. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement,” according to Black.
The Ashland City Council will hear the plan Tuesday at its regular business meeting at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers, 1170 East Main St. If they approve it, then the parks department will begin arranging for public meetings to discuss what the neighborhood would like to see in the new park.
— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.