Off the fast track: Dover Park indoor facility under discussion

DOVER — Matt Lindell, a Dover city councilman for the 1st District, said he is not necessarily against the idea of building an indoor recreational facility at Dover Park, he just wants to make sure the proper steps are taken and in the correct order.

Councilman Lindell said at Monday night’s city council meeting that he wasn’t quite comfortable with so many unanswered questions swirling around the idea of a new indoor facility at the park off White Oak Road in East Dover to keep it moving forward at the brisk pace it appeared to be on.

“Personally, I think (the Dover Park issue) needs to go back to committee and I’d like to make a motion that we refer this issue back to committee to allow the staff to respond to the presentation that was made two weeks ago and to do it right,” he said.

His motion passed unanimously and now more discussion is set to take place regarding the future of an indoor recreational facility for Dover Park
“I feel that in this case it was best to refer this back to committee to allow staff to look at the (Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance) presentation, to respond to the presentation and to fully vet the presentation and to allow our staff to have informed response to it within the committee threshold,”

Councilman Lindell said. “I think it’s important to do right. All I’m asking for personally is to get the chance for more information, rather than having our staff look around and figure out what to do next.
“We have a plan in place – the Dover Park (Master) Plan. We need to have a deeper discussion at the committee level. Do we want a social center, or do we want a rec center that is in the plan? It needs to be discussed.”
Councilman Roy Sudler Jr., perhaps the biggest proponent of bringing an indoor facility back to Dover Park after a previous one was razed by the city in 2014 after falling into disrepair, said he didn’t mind going back and having further discussions.

“I believe that we’re here to serve at the pleasure of our constituents and if our constituents are saying they would like a recreational facility, then I like we need to adhere to what they want, rather than what we want,” said Councilman Sudler. “We don’t decide basically as a whole, that decision has to incorporate what our constituents want.”

There is a lot at stake, considering Dover Park consists of 28.2 acres of vast recreational potential and there are 2,900 housing units and 5,000 residents that live within a mile of the park, which is located at 1210 White Oak Road.
“If you go out to Dover Park now you will start to see there has been a transformation that is taking place,” City Councilman Scott Kohl said. “There are people out there walking, there are people out there enjoying the outdoors.
“I just think that with everything that’s going on right now and with the staff feeling the way that they do I am going to support throwing it back to the committee to give the staff a chance.”

Councilman Slavin eyes funding
The Greater Dover IMA Social Action Committee made a presentation at the Council Committee of the Whole Parks, Recreation and Community Enhancement Committee meeting at City Hall on July 9 regarding surveys it had conducted regarding Dover Park and what residents would like to see at the park.
The IMA committee recommended that a community partnership be organized by the Social Action Committee, joining up with several other civic and community organizations, to raise money to build a facility to house many of the programs and services desired by the participants that took part in their Dover Park survey.

At that meeting, City Councilman Tim Slavin made a motion regarding the Dover Park indoor facility at the end of a lengthy discussion that caught Mr. Lindell by surprise.
“The million dollars that was in the (state legislature’s) bond bill (to build a) parking garage (in Dover) was made to the state’s operating bill to be used for the Dover Park Master Plan and the Schutte Park Master Plan, providing the initiatives are minor and/or major capital improvements for said parks,” City Manager Donna Mitchell said.

“Then (Councilman Slavin) said he would be willing to sponsor a motion to put some of that money out to IMA’s new partnership as a challenge to then go out and leverage that money from private foundations and givers.”
Councilman Lindell said he just wondered where all those changes took place.

“Going back to the (Council Committee of the Whole) Parks and Rec meeting two weeks ago we learned of the news that the $1 million had been changed from the parking garage to be used for Dover Park and such without any discussion about where the change was made,” he said. “I was surprised and yet we go in to blindly vote and recommend that our staff look at these items and work with the IMA and other (nonprofits), and yet we’re learning this news here at the time of the meeting.

“The presentation that was given (by the IMA) was not even in the packet, so we didn’t even have a chance to respond or to properly vet questions, staff didn’t have a chance to look at it, and it would have been unfair at the time to ask staff to look at it, because it would be putting them on the spot.”

Promise of a new facility
When the prior indoor recreational facility was torn down at Dover Park in 2014, city council members made the promise that they would build a replacement. That day has yet to come.
However, the Dover Park Draft 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.
The IMA Social Action Committee recommended building a larger 3,600 square foot indoor facility that can be used not only for sports, but also for community programs and services, and raising half of the financial backing as well as providing staffing for the facility.
“I think this issue has a good intent,” Mrs. Mitchell said. “I think the intent was good from Mr. Slavin and the intent was good (from the IMA) and the intent of all of our council was very good and they are trying to reach out to the community and help them.

“What I have concerns about is this came to committee without being vetted by staff. When we did the Dover Master Plan, we had charettes, we had three meetings, and nobody gave us this input.”
City Council President Bill Hare said serious questions remain.
“I’m not opposed to the Master Plan of Dover Park,” President Hare said. “What I was hearing the other night was a private entity coming in saying ‘We want to build a building and you give us half the money and we’ll build the building.’

“So, now who’s going to be responsible for the building? Who’s going to control the hours of the building? Who’s responsible for the staff of that building? Who’s going to cover the insurance of the building, the utilities of that building? If somebody gets hurt in that building, whose insurance is going to be responsible for that? Who’s going to maintain it?
“There’s just a lot of questions that I have from a business perspective. If I put up half and you put up half, who’s going to be responsible for everything?”

Open for discussion
Mrs. Mitchell said she would be more than willing to sit down and have discussion with the IMA regarding their ideas.
“I do have concerns with some of what they’ve asked for because it is a public park, so we’ve got to make sure that we don’t squeeze others out of the park that don’t want to be there because it’s one entity,” she said. “So, we need to have those conversations and I would be glad to sit down and have those conversations with them and try to work this out.

“But I do feel (myself and staff) did put our work into it and it seems like a wasted effort because we went through all that process, we hired an engineer, they did all this work for us and we paid them and we didn’t get this input (from the IMA) at that time.”
Councilman David Anderson said he doesn’t believe the Dover Park issue needs to go back and start all over again.

“Now that funding is not the issue, now that we have nonprofits who said ‘We’ll help with staffing and provide that,’ and you have the community stepping up to say ‘We’re going to help bear the burden,’ it just seems strange to me that every objection that has been raised in these chambers has been met to say, ‘Eh, let’s start all over again,’” he said.

“We’re just moving forward in a direction to provide a park facility that is desired by the people of the city that we’ve been hearing about for the last six years. This isn’t something that is exactly a sudden idea or something that hasn’t been discussed.”

Councilman Lindell just cautioned his fellow representatives that maybe the city needs to take a step back, take a deep breath, and then proceed while answering all the questions and dot the i’s and cross the t’s before an indoor facility at Dover Park comes up for a council vote.

“Sometimes it feels like we’re putting staff on the spot without allowing them to fully vet these things,” he said. “I feel like we’re the little bugs at night when you turn on the light and they’re like, ‘Hey, there’s a light … let’s go to that light,’ and then, ‘Hey, there’s another light, let’s go to that light.’

“Well, one of these times we’re going to go to that light and it’s going to be the zapper and we’re going to get burned.”

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

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