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Parks superintendent Ken Leber announces five-year plan

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 28, 2015 at 3:53 PM

Earlier this month all of the city department heads were asked to present to city council a five-year capital improvement plan. The Norwalk Park and Recreation Department concentrated on four major items:

1) A new HVAC system for Barnes Gym;

2) A community amphitheater;

3) Paved trail around the reservoirs;

4) An addition to the Community Center.

1) The initial project was to replace the heating system at the Ernsthausen Community Center Gymnasium (Barnes Gym). The present system is antiquated and constantly breaking down. A newer model will allow us to have better balance on the temperatures of the track and the gym something we never have now.

2) The amphitheater is something the city has long had a desire for.

It would be a tremendous asset to the Norwalk Community a setting for concerts, talent shows and live entertainment. We have found an ideal site at Veteran's Memorial Lake Park. It is above the southwest corner of the Memorial Lake and it's natural sloping terrain would require little excavation and provide a majestic setting looking down on the stage with the Lake as a backdrop.

3) Veteran's Memorial Lake Park has become a haven for nature lovers and walkers over the last few years. The paving of a new trail which would encircle the three lakes includes relocating the trail to the top of the banks where patrons could soak in the pristine beauty of the park and walk bridges that would cross wetlands and the spillway will only entice more activity.

4) The final project discussed was an addition to the Ernsthausen Community Center. We are extremely proud of this facility. It is as well used and functional as any you'll find. It is a first class facility that our staff has programmed to the max and you will not find the well-rounded programs offered for less.

This community owes Mr. John Ernsthausen a debt that cannot be repaid. Mr. Ernsthausen, the former founder of the largest independly-owned truck line in the world was a philanthropic who helped make this facility a reality. We are so fortunate that he made Norwalk is home. We have been good stewards of the facility named in his honor. We have strived to generate revenues that would offset expenses. In fact, the growth in collected fees from programs and facilities by the park and recreation department is amazing.

As a timeline, when former Superintendent Robert Barnes began with the city in 1975 park and rec operations generated just under $14,000 a year. By the end of his tenure in 1998, activities at the Community and Aquatic Centers helped increase that number to nearly $500,000 a year! This year we will raise over a million bucks! To put that in perspective, we raise almost as much now in five days as we did all year before the centers were built.

As much as we love our facility we do have some areas that we feel need improved. We feel that the cost of the addition will best be handled in phases. The first phase will include the most urgent needs including to enlarge our strength and cardio equipment areas and add a water-play room for toddlers. This will also free up existing areas to be used for room rentals. The best part of the initial phase is it should all boost revenues.

The usage of the weight room has increased steadily every year since we opened. We have added as much equipment as we can fit into these facilities. When we planning for a building, we were told that users of these areas would "pay the way" for the other amenities in the center and we have not been disappointed. We have a need to double the size of this area. This would also allow us to separate a section for exclusive use by our young teens where we can have specific hours with supervised use. This will accomplish two things. One, it will provide needed instruction and supervision to an age that can use it and remove this large group from tying up machines from older patrons.

We have never had an answer for toddlers in the aquatic area once the outdoor pool shut down. We feel that a splashpad is the ideal solution. A splashpad is a playground with water features such as cannons, tumble buckets fountains and the like. They are "kid magnets.". There is a reason all of the water parks are being built in Erie County and it's not for the lap swimmers! They draw families and that means more revenues. The best part on and operations part is since there is no collection of water it doesn't require lifeguards. In fact, it will require adult or parent supervision.

The other plans for the addition will be on the gym side as part of phase 2. They include a lounge area for interaction and social enjoyment it is a primary reason many senior citizens workout. It will also include a toddler classroom off of the playgound with their own restroom. There would be a gymnastic room, dance and spinning room off of the track, additional multi-purpose gyms, indoor batting cages or golf nets and other amenities. Our plans for the gyms is to allow members access to them after school which they often cannot do now to bustling programs. Perhaps by 8 p.m. on weeknights we could handle travel soccer leagues or floor hockey programs to help with revenue generation.

We have a plan in place that we feel can offset operations cost by focusing on additional activities that can add to revenues and not be a drain on them. The community has supported us in the past wonderfully. We feel these enhancements would be a major improvement to our operation.

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