City eyes improvements at Dover Park

An empty Dover Park playground. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

An empty Dover Park playground. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Dover Park, more commonly known as White Oak Park, is on a slow and winding path towards receiving upgrades and renovations.

Whether that path will include the construction of a new indoor recreational center is yet to be determined as Dover City Council considers cost factors and whether or not they feel that type of facility is needed.

Dover Park once had an indoor recreation facility. However, city council voted to demolish it in 2014 because the recreation center, built in the 1970s, was aging and time had taken a toll on the building and between deterioration and water penetration it had become obsolete.

The park is currently comprised of 28.2 wooded acres that includes softball fields, a playground, pavilions, basketball courts, tennis courts, disc golf and more.

Taking small steps

Ann Marie Townshend, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said several steps need to be taken before any serious progress can be made to Dover Park, which is located on White Oak Road between U.S. 13 and Del. 1.

“Where we stand at this point, I am in the process of writing an RFP [request for proposal] to bring on, hopefully, landscape architects, [with an] engineering joint effort there to do a Master Plan for Dover Park,” said Mrs. Townshend.

The city has lots of data to pull from regarding needs for Dover Park, including its own Recreation Needs Assessment and the 2014 East-Side Assessment Report that was completed by the Social Action Commission at Mount Zion A.M.E. Church.

“We want to make sure the process for developing a Master Plan for the Dover Park brings in the public, brings in the resources available from both of these surveys and also addresses the safety issues that we have heard about Dover Park,” Mrs. Townshend said. “If you go out to Dover Park, the vegetation provides a lot of opportunities for people to not be seen if they don’t want to be.

“So we want to develop a plan for vegetation management and we would address the location of a [possible] building. When we demolished the recreation center the utilities continue to be [available] there.”

Mrs. Townshend said the Parks and Recreation Department plans to meet face-to-face with the city’s residents regarding improvements to Dover Park next spring.

Councilman Sudler wants to speed up the process

That’s not soon enough for Councilman Roy Sudler Jr., who plans to meet with residents the third week of October, either at the park itself or at Towne Point, depending on the weather.

“We’re going to start immediately. I don’t plan on waiting until next year,” said Mr. Sudler, the new chairman of the Parks and Recreation Committee. “Getting improvements made for the park for residents in that area of the city have been put off long enough. The crime rate continues to go up and we just can’t wait another year on this.”

Mr. Sudler was chairman of the Social Action Commission and helped put together the 2014 East-Side Assessment Report for the Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church.

His survey revealed that 234 respondents felt Dover should replace the indoor recreation center at Dover Park, compared to 66 who said no to the proposal.

Mr. Sudler’s report found that in the realm of program offerings, area residents most wanted to see summer camps, teen nights and day trips offered by the park.

Among the programs they would like to see offered are job-seeking tips, mentors for at-risk youth and a go to school, go to college program.

“My top priority is to enter into a discussion with residents that live in that area [east Dover],” Mr. Sudler said. “We have to give them something to do, and it’s not just about sports activities, but it’s about being able to provide life-skills programming as well.”

The cost of a new building

Councilman Fred Neil raised a couple of questions at the City Council Meeting of the Whole last Tuesday night regarding some of the programs that residents would like to see.

“In the Mount Zion survey there were a lot of social interactive issues that would need a facility or a building and it then struck me that we have a marvelous library and they’re holding activities down there where many of these things can actually be taken care of,” he said.

“You don’t have to wait for this. [The library’s] close enough certainly to the Third and Fourth District to be able to utilize so that you don’t have to build a building or build a gym.”

Mr. Neil pointed out that there is a cost for everything and some of the things desired might be offered someplace else.

“All of a sudden when you’re talking about all of these things that they’d really like to have we’re going to have to say, ‘Well, what’s it going to cost us?,’” said Mr. Neil. “You have to take that into consideration. You can’t ignore that.”

Councilman David Anderson suggested possibly having a public-private partnership to help pay for a new recreation building.

City moves its plans along

The city’s Recreational Needs Assessment showed that 52.01 percent of the city’s residents say they don’t use Dover Park and 19.87 percent use it two to three times a year (out of 448 respondents).

The survey also showed that 56.49 percent of people who use the park do so for walking and jogging, 33.05 percent use the playground equipment and 24.69 percent are involved in league activities, such as softball and field hockey.

As far as improvements, 50.15 percent of survey respondents said they would like to see indoor bathroom facilities at the park, 40.25 percent wanted a new indoor recreation center and 41.49 percent would like to see a paved trail system for walking and jogging.

“So the idea is that we will develop a plan that will allow for at whatever point in time, and if council deems it necessary or desirable, a building, but also dealing with the issues of a multi-use path,” Mrs. Townshend said. “The biggest activity in that park is walking and jogging and right now they’re just doing it on the road, so we would address those things as well as the vegetation management, the lighting and how we deal with the sports area in the back, because that needs some sprucing.

“The idea is that we will address all these issues and then be able to kind of lead into the programming as well.”

Mrs. Townshend said meeting with the public at the park next spring will be instrumental because people will be able to look around and see what they like and what they don’t like.

“There’s only so much you can get from a survey,” she said. “I think once you get the public to come in and you have that dialogue I think you can start to get a better sense of what they really want.

“I think the degree to which they want things comes out better in dialogue than it does when you’re just checking off boxes on a computer or taking a survey. So the public meetings should help us find out what we need to do with the park.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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