Boulder Parks and Recreation expresses intent to keep focus on existing facilities

·3 min read

Jul. 28—As Boulder Parks and Recreation plans for its future, it intends to keep its primary focus on maintaining its current parks and amenities.

Additionally, in its Tuesday study session, the Boulder City Council agreed the department should focus less on the acreage of parkland and more on ensuring that parks and amenities are accessible to all.

Councilmember Aaron Brockett said he cannot recall visiting a park that's been too crowded for him to enjoy. However, if a park is too far or too difficult to access, it affects people's ability to use and enjoy the resource, he said.

"With limited ability to add parkland, the city has to decide how to continue to best serve current and future community members as well as visitors," said Sarah Horn, a project manager planner at consultant Design Workshop.

In order to do this, the firm recommends exploring how Boulder Parks and Recreation measures its level of service and looking at alternative ways to better serve the community with available parkland and existing facilities.

'Taking care of what we have'

In addition to the City Council's unanimous support of the idea, those who participated in the 2021 master plan update survey agreed that Boulder should maintain its existing park and recreation facilities.

Furthermore, as part of its intent to maintain and upgrade current facilities, the City Council supported planning and constructing future phases at existing parks, including Valmont, Foothills and Harlow Platts. It also could repurpose existing sites such as the East Mapleton Ballfields to include more or different types of amenities that would fill some of the gaps.

That's been the department's strategy so far. For example, the Parks and Recreation department recently completed a new bike pump track project at Valmont, and it's in the process of updating skate parks at several parks in Boulder.

But funding such projects remains a challenge for the department. To continue taking care of its current facilities, Boulder Parks and Recreation would need to spend $6 to $9 million on capital improvement projects annually, according to data presented in Tuesday's study session. Right now, it's spending anywhere from $4 to $6 million annually.

"If the funding is available then by all means expand opportunities, expand facilities, but until that occurs, I think the priority has to be maintaining and enhancing existing assets," Councilmember Mark Wallach said.

Those who took the community survey largely supported maintaining the current funding sources, renewing existing sales taxes for parks and recreation when they expire and applying for grants and donations.

Fewer than half of the respondents supported a new sales tax to support parks and recreation needs.

Staff on Tuesday presented a number of potential funding options, including increasing fees for select programs or demographics or across the board, reducing services or finding a combination of new funding and fee adjustments.

Most of the City Council seemed amenable to increasing fees so long as the department still provides support to lower-income users.

Mayor Sam Weaver said the survey results, where participants were asked to allocate how they'd spend $100, were indicative of the community's desire for this, too. Of the $100, survey participants set aside $27 for maintaining existing park and recreation facilities, $21 for renovating and enhancing existing facilities and $26 for removing financial barriers for underserved communities.

"It's clear ... that people are willing to pay more to be able to make sure that everyone has access," he said. "Personally, I don't think that it's clear that we shouldn't increase fees as costs go up. We should. But we should do so in a way that we support the folks who don't have the money to manage the fee increases as well."

Additionally, there was widespread support for increasing fees for non-Boulder residents, and most expressed little interest in reducing services.

Boulder Parks and Recreation is in the midst of updating its master plan, which guides the department's priorities. It is currently closing out the phase where it assessed its needs and intends to bring forth a draft plan later this year.

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