City seeks to make improvements to Dover Park

Nearby residents of Dover Park participated in a walkthrough of the park on May 27 to point out areas of concern and gave their ideas for improvements at the facility. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — A lap around Dover Park shows a recreational area where certain corners have fallen into disrepair due to criminal activity, neglect and misuse.

Tables in the park’s pavilion have been used for beds for homeless people, benches have been burned during the winter to produce heat and graffiti and vandalism scar the area.

However, City Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. and community members who reside near Dover Park, at 1210 White Oak Road, see an opportunity to revive the park and bring a new energy to the area — along with a new indoor recreational facility.

Mr. Sudler hosted a community meeting, called “Starting Below Ground Zero!,” regarding the future of Dover Park at City Hall on May 25 and also had a walkthrough of the park and get-together with individuals interested in the facility’s future on May 29.

“My top priority is having discussions 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.

“I was extremely excited to see the willingness from diverse communities throughout the city of Dover, so eager and enthusiastic about restoring Dover Park and recreational facilities. But what impressed me the most was the open and honest dialogue between the community and officials pertaining to the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of Dover Park.”

Looking for funding

Dave Hugg, acting city planner, submitted a couple of applications to the state just prior to Mr. Sudler’s community meeting in hopes of receiving some matching grant money to get the Dover Park Master Plan started.

“At this point they don’t have a guarantee of funding or a commitment of town money, but we’re hoping that they will be able to come through and we will be able to match the grants,” Mr. Hugg said.

“One of the applications we’ve submitted is to do a Master Plan for Dover Park that was one of the recommendations that was very high priority in the (city’s 2015) Recreational Needs Assessment – that all of our parks need a master plan that lays out how the parks are going to be used and what kind of facilities (they need).”

He said that the master plan could lead to discussion regarding the construction of a new indoor recreation center, as well as other improvements.

“The second application that we’re submitting, assuming the Master Planning project gets funded and starts probably in late fall, is that by early 2018, we should have enough information to start to decide what kind of indoor recreation facility makes sense at Dover Park,” said Mr. Hugg.

“So they’ve also added money to do some design and engineering work on a facility, which is kind of vague at this point in time as to how big and what it (will encompass), but both of those things will need a lot of input from the users and public for what they want to see and how they want to see the park system operate.”

Acting City Manager Donna Mitchell said Dover could match some of the grants if the state elects to provide assistance, but not all of them.

“The city does have a parkland reserve account for us to maintain the parks,” Ms. Mitchell said. “We do have money set aside that will help with the matching grants.

“When it comes to a new building, we will have to look for some other financing, because there’s not going to be enough (money) there to cover a new building.”

On May 27, community members also shared their ideas on how they can improve the level of safety and the number of activities at Dover Park, located off White Oak Road in East Dover. (Submitted photo)

Safety is a key concern

At Mr. Sudler’s community meeting, many of the 20 individuals or so in attendance indicated they wanted to have a place they could use without fearing for their safety.

“My concern is it’s close to summer and the kids are going to be out of school,” said Lewis Charles Jackson. “If these kids don’t have nowhere to go and positive places to hang out, then, they’re going to be on the corner.

“It’s up to us to make a way for these young kids. If we don’t, it could be a lost cause. They’re going to be lost. We have to do something. We can’t just sit around and let these young lives be wasted.”

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.

Safety is the key to turning Dover Park around, according to residents of the area.

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. (Delaware State News file photo/Marc Clery)

“If we took the time to police the areas more then there wouldn’t be people out there who have time to do any damage to the area,” Stephen Fountain said. “It belongs to the city of Dover and for the people who have use for it.

“There’s plenty of ground for an (indoor facility) to expand to be able to have a lot of things in there for kids and for adults to be able to do things and allow them to have a better perspective on their life.”

Amanda Carey, a 14-year-old resident who uses Dover Park, believes the improvements will only be a positive.

“I know how older people may see it as a problem with kids going to the playground just to do the wrong thing,” she said, “But I also think that expanding the playground and making the building would also help all ages and it gives people (a reason) to go have a good time instead of going around doing wrong things.”

Mr. Hugg sees a great deal of potential in the East Dover property.

“Dover Park is unique in that we’re going to also include a landscape architect for arborists (in funding application) because the stand of trees that separates the park into two pieces is actually a very valuable woodland that contributes a lot to outdoor recreation quality to wildlife,” he said.

“It’s very valuable forest cover, so we need to figure out how to use that in the park system in a way that provides benefit and doesn’t become an obstacle or a safety concern.”

Is indoor center necessary?

With the state and cities throughout it looking to cut back on funding and balance their budgets, there are many who wonder if an indoor recreation center should be high on the list of priorities.

The city’s 2015 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.

One of the residents who got up to speak at Mr. Sudler’s meeting did not feel a new indoor recreation center was necessary and that Dover’s Parks and Recreation Department could put up tents on the weekend to gauge interest in possible programs, such as arts and crafts, among other things.

He said the city should gauge interest before going all-in on a new indoor facility, especially when places such as the Dover Public Library facilitate so many programs.

“When we heard from residents back in 2015, an indoor facility was kind of in the middle to the lower range of priorities, but there is a note that says it’s important to provide a location for an indoor facility in Dover Park in the future as that need will increase,” Mr. Hugg said.

“The state outdoor recreation plan, which is kind of a guideline for us, very clearly said that indoor recreation is one of the more highly ranked needs in the city of Dover.”

Now, it’s just a matter of securing money to make the needed improvements.

“It’s a competitive process statewide but I think we have three viable projects (including Schutte Park improvements) that we can get funded,” Mr. Hugg said.

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

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