Dover Councilman Sudler continues push for Dover Park recreation building

Dover Park’s wooded 28.2 acres include softball fields, a playground, pavilions, basketball courts, tennis courts, disc golf and more.. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Dover City Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. said he believes the city’s residents who live east of U.S. 13 are being shortchanged when he got a glimpse of the city’s master plan for the future of Dover Park, located off White Oak Road.

The absence of a comparatively sized recreation and activities center to replace the one that was razed by the city in 2014 after falling into disrepair was the big item that really sparked Councilman Sudler’s ire.

He moved to take the Dover Park master plan off the city council consent agenda on Sept. 10, asking City Manager Donna Mitchell if she could help provide him with more information.

“As chairman of the city’s Park and Recreational Enhancement Committee I will not rest until there is an adequate facility (at Dover Park) that reflects the level of service that Schutte Park represents in the east side,” Councilman Sudler said. “Our constituents throughout the city of Dover deserve the same level of service that their tax dollars can afford.

“We are losing our youth to the streets and we must do all that we can to save them.”

Mrs. Mitchell said the Dover Park Master Plan is now in the hands of city council.

A Dover policeman patrols at Dover Park. Some city officials say budget constraints do not make it feasible to construct a large recreational facility at a park that is often feared by potential visitors due to criminal activity in the area, according to the master plan survey. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“Once council has approved the document, it will be up to the city manager and staff to develop a budget for the plan based on resources available for (Dover Park) as well as the Schutte Park Master Plan that has also been approved,” she said. “Staff will have to prioritize all projects included in the budget for council approval.”

The Dover Park master plan, crafted by Wilmington-based Whitman, Requardt and Associates, touted the possibility of a one- to two-classroom modular building with restroom facilities that would cost the city an estimated $165,000.

However, it did not appear to be a component in Phase I of the master plan.

Dover Parks and Recreation Director Margie Cyr, in a letter to Mr. Sudler and Mrs. Mitchell, insisted that city staff did its due diligence in talking to residents and getting their input for the park’s future.

“Essentially the purpose of any master plan is to provide a framework for the development of physical spaces which allow for the implementation of programs and activities desired by a community and to provide a variety of options for development of spaces to support such activities,” Mrs. Cyr wrote. “Critical to the development of such spaces is the ability to maintain them and to support them financially (operationally and with staffing).

“The draft master plan developed by Whitman, Requardt and Associates does just that. It lays out options, costs, and maintenance. It is now up to the city leadership and its staff to make decisions and to prioritize the options put forth in the master plan once it has been approved.”

Councilman Sudler pointed to a survey conducted by the Social Action Commission’s Task Force of Mount Zion A.M.E. Church on Queen Street that was submitted to city council in January 2014 of more than 300 residents as to what they wanted to see replace the former Dover Parks Recreation Building.

The majority of 300 residents who participated in the Mount Zion task force’s survey agreed the old rec center at Dover Park needed to come down, with 246 in favor of its demolition.

Almost as many of 234, wanted it replaced by a new modern building.

City Council President Tim Slavin told the Delaware State News two years ago that he could see trouble brewing when the old Dover Park Recreation Building was demolished.

“We didn’t want to see the building demolished until we knew that a new facility was going to take its place,” Council President Slavin said in February 2016. “We didn’t want to end up where we are today with people telling us what they need and not providing it for them, but here we are facing those same problems we tried to avoid.

“We definitely need something over there. We have parks out there and we need to try to find a way to utilize those parks or add different recreational programs. I’m not just thinking about the youth. I’m thinking about everyone, like senior citizens, who may want to have a nice place to walk and want different activities.”

So, even today, Dover Park remains in the bull’s-eye of the city’s recreation-needs debate. The park’s wooded 28.2 acres include softball fields, a playground, pavilions, basketball courts, tennis courts, disc golf and more.

Some city officials say budget constraints do not make it feasible to construct a large recreational facility at a park that is often feared by potential visitors due to criminal activity in the area, according to the master plan survey.

Mrs. Cyr said, “The process of developing the draft master plan was very much a ‘community-driven’ process. The information gathered during the active plan development included opportunities for the public to participate in four public meetings, to respond electronically to a survey and to respond in person via one-on-one telephone interviews.

“Notice of these opportunities were sent to all residents in the neighboring areas via direct postcard mailings; electronic email posts; social media posts; newspaper articles; personally delivered fliers to housing centers, schools, churches and other entities at which the public gathers; and banners posted at the park.”

She added that data collected during the 2015 Recreational Needs Assessment and the 2014 SAC Mount Zion Church East-Side Assessment were also used to supplement data gathered during the active master plan process.

“Each of the three processes identified the need for a physical building in Dover Park to be used for programs and activities in the park as well as accessible rest rooms as highly desirable,” Mrs. Cyr said.

“The 2015 Recreational Needs Assessment and the Dover Park Master Plan surveys revealed primarily the desire for physical and fitness-related activities such as trail system for walking/biking, tennis, football, disc golf, camps, sports leagues, indoor recreation for basketball and volleyball, for example.”

Phase I of the Dover Park Master Plan is expected to take up to five years to complete at a cost of around $500,000.

The first phase of recommended improvements to Dover Park include: an asphalt multi-use loop trail system and pathway connections throughout the park; resurfacing of tennis courts and basketball courts and access points and trails from the east side of the park at Acorn Lane and Manchester Square and the west side at Mapleton Square and The Laurels.

The opening phase also covers park entrance enhancements at all existing and proposed official access points; clearing undergrowth near the main entrance and through the center of park in the hardwood forest area; removing large specimen trees that are hazardous and installing and monitoring three security cameras.

Still, there was no mention of an indoor recreational facility in the Phase I budget.

That does not please Councilman Sudler or Cecil Wilson, former chairman of the Dover Human Relations Committee and president of the Delaware NAACP Central Branch.

“Councilman Roy Sudler, Jr. is fighting a strong fight for a much-needed population then ever before as crime/gangs slowly increase (and) that will not promote healthy lifestyles for residents of Dover and its surrounding communities,” Mr. Wilson said. “I strongly recommend that ‘All’ improve all parks/recreations programs/facilities by working together.”

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

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