Kenai’s Enchanted Forest playground project took another step closer to reality on Wednesday evening. Two of the four components of the plan created by the city administration, with the help of the Kenai Parks and Recreation Commission and a group of interested citizens, were approved for purchase. City manager Rick Koch said the new playground equipment could be installed in late April.
Council member Tim Navarre was the first to speak about playground improvement at Wednesday’s Kenai city council meeting. He began by thanking the Parks and Recreation Commission for the Dec. 4 work session at which they originally presented the plans for the council’s consideration. The proposal up for approval on Wednesday — to renovate the Kenai Municipal Park with an “enchanted forest” theme — consisted of four elements for the council to approve separately: the construction of a play area for 2- to 5-year-old children, priced by the city manager at $160,751; the renovation of equipment in the existing play area for 5- to 12-year-olds, priced at $107,966; the construction of a zipline for $140,000; and the addition of carved wooden animals for $6,975.
“I’m happy that we’re finally at a point where we’re proceeding, as you know, through the frustration of Parks and Recs,” Navarre said. “I’m glad they finally came to a level where they brought to us ‘Here’s what we want to see. Here’s the big picture of this park, and we want to get it done, and be done with it.’ And we finally got some real numbers, some real costs and ideas. … Whenever you see sticker prices, they scare you a little bit. But to build a city, over time, isn’t cheap, and to do it right is very important.”
Navarre was referring to the long process through which Parks and Rec had developed the Enchanted Forest plan, beginning with proposals from community members at the beginning of the year and proceeding through several public meetings and discussions. Following a directive issued at the Dec. 4 work session, Koch released the present four-part plan in a Dec. 11 memo to the city council, in which he also specified the budgetary resources available to pay the total $415,692 cost of the four parts. These resources included a $200,000 appropriation from the city’s general fund, an $18,323 state grant, $4,129 available for transfer from other projects, and $30,125 of donations from citizens of Kenai — yielding a total of $252,578, short of the playground’s total cost by $23,114. Although Koch also predicted the city would have a year end budget surplus of $92,414, he recommended saving that money for future capital projects in anticipation of a possible decrease in state capital spending, rather than using it on the playground project.
Navarre said that the whole package, including the zipline, was within reach of the city.
“There’s some flexibility there, when you look at administrative costs, and contingency amounts that I believe will reflect some additional savings, so I’m going to support moving forward with the complete plan and finishing the park,” said Navarre.
Other council members disagreed.
“I don’t want to go off budget, particularly with regard to we don’t know what’s going to happen with revenue sharing from the state,” Molloy said. “That’s probably going to be down from what we received last year. I’d like to have us look at how to fund the zipline … and if the municipal park is the right place for it, in the next budget cycle.”
“I love the idea of a zipline,” council member Terry Bookey said. “But I don’t think we’re getting a zipline. … That being said, I don’t want to see a discussion about whether we should or shouldn’t have a zipline in the municipal park tie up progress on the remainder of that park. People’s kids are aging out of that park in the time it’s taken for us to start talking about it.”
In addition to the zipline, Mayor Pat Porter had previously approached local wood sculptor Derek Stanton with the idea of creating a series of carved wooden animals for the park, enhancing its enchanted forest theme. The mayor, absent from Wednesday’s meeting due to a Florida vacation, has been active in soliciting community support for the park, including the animals and zipline. Navarre said that the council could count on continued community support for those components.
“I believe there’s still an opportunity for other people from the community to participate in this park,” Navarre said. “It’s our one theme park that we’ve really asked the public to step in and participate, and I believe you’ll see a great number more still step up.”
Bookey opposed the wooden animals, describing them as “$7,000 worth of aesthetics.”
“It’s pretty. It would look good, it would make it look very nice the next time we took a picture of the municipal park and put it on the cover of something,” Bookey said. “But as far as the actual playability for the user groups that will be going there, that’s $7,000 that isn’t used effectively.”
Navarre brought the discussion to an end by moving to approve the equipment for the 2- to 5- and 5- to 12-year-olds, leaving the zipline and the carved animals for future debate. The council unanimously passed the motion. The price of the two approved items, by Koch’s estimate, was $268,717 — $16,139 above the funding that he had listed as available.
“It is above,” said Knackstedt, “but we think that this estimate is high — it’ll come down a bit, so it’s a very small gap, within reason.”
Koch said that his staff is ready to begin the procurement process for the equipment. As part of the development of the proposal, the Parks and Recreation commission had already conducted competitive bidding and selected a supplier for the equipment. Koch predicted that purchase orders for the equipment would be sent next week, and agreed with Knackstedt’s belief that the actual price of the equipment would fall below his estimate.
“I usually run a little bit fat on my estimates, so I’d hope to see some numbers below the numbers I came up with,” Koch said. He said that the price of the equipment could also be affected by the time of the year it is purchased.
“Generally, (buying) earlier in the calendar year will result in more competitive pricing, rather than waiting until the end of the year when people’s work schedules start to fill up,” said Koch.