Residents weigh in on parks and recreation

Environmental Planning and Design, consultants hired to produce the park plan and recreation center feasibility study, toured the parks this summer with members of the parks advisory, sports advisory and environmental sustainability boards. Above: environmental sustainability board member Heather Wechter at Iroquois Park.

Mt. Lebanon’s parks master plan and recreation facility feasibility study has finished its first round of information gathering and is fine-tuning the results.

Representatives from Environmental Planning and Design (EPD), the firm hired to complete the study, were on hand at community events over the summer, farmers markets, July 4 and the Police Association classic car show to discuss what changes users want to see in the parks, and gauge interest in a new recreation facility. That outreach combined with an online survey yielded 2,111 responses, drawn roughly equally from each of Mt. Lebanon’s five wards.

“(EPD) is taking all that information and conglomerating it together into potential options we can consider,” said Assistant Manager/Planner Ian McMeans, who is spearheading the project.

“Once the options are synthesized, we’ll have another round of feedback and then submit some recommendations.”

Permanent bathrooms, bike paths and nature trails were the most-requested amenities. Top activities included rock climbing and pickleball.

Ideas for what to include in a new recreation facility were a fitness and weight facility, indoor aquatics, sports courts and a walking track.

In addition to the survey, EPD took a tour of the parks, and is factoring in market research, national trends and best practices. McMeans says the next step is to flesh out  the suggestions.

“We know what people want, but where’s the best place to put it?” he said. “We’ll take the responses from, for example, the indoor aquatics and say ‘Can you give us more details to further define those water facilities?’”
Included in the survey was a section on budgeting. In answer to a question of whether the municipality’s $3.15 million recreation budget should increase, decrease or stay the same, a substantial majority, 61.8 percent, were in favor of an increase, while 36.9 percent wanted the budget to remain the same. Only 1.3 percent called for a decrease. When asked how much more a household would be willing to pay for enhanced facilities and services, almost 90 percent of  respondents said they would be willing to pay something extra; the most common amount was from $5 to $8 per month more, favored by 27 percent; about 22 percent ranged higher, at more than $8 per month, and an equal amount landed in the $3 to $4 per month range.

“So, 36 percent said the budget should remain the same, but when asked if they’d pay more, at least a few of those folks said ‘Yeah, I could pay a little more,’” McMeans said.

Another point for fine-tuning in the next round of feedback would be to delineate between tax increases and user fees to pay for the possible budget increase.

McMeans hopes to have gathered all of the second-loop feedback from the survey into a list of recommendations in October, with an eye toward presenting a first draft of the study in November. If all goes according to plan, McMeans hopes to have final recommendations ready to present to the Mt. Lebanon Commission in January.

Photography: Linda Hackett, Judy Macoskey