Splash pad in the works for Dover Park

A Can-Do Playground, like the one shown here in Milford, was part of the original master plan for Dover Park off White Oak Road. A Can-Do Playground is designed to be accessible to every child, regardless of physical, mental and sensory abilities. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — While the size and location of a potential indoor recreational facility at Dover Park remains an unanswered question, many other aspects of the revitalization of the park off White Oak Road — including a splash pad for children — received answers.

The Council Committee of the Whole’s Parks, Recreation and Community Enhancement Committee voted unanimously at City Hall on Tuesday night to accept staff recommendations as amended — with the square footage of an indoor recreational facility left open — while the city continues to research other options such as a skate park and dog park.

The recommendation to proceed with the Dover Park Master Plan will now go to vote before full city council.

Many parts of the Dover Park Master Plan, crafted by Wilmington-based Whitman, Requardt and Associates, have been actively worked on by city workers over the past year with projects such as: enhancing the park entrance, resurfacing tennis and basketball courts, fixing up a disc-golf course, clearing overgrown vegetation and undergrowth, removing large trees, installing a security camera, along with other improvements.

The original master plan had called for a splash pad, a 1,440-square-foot indoor recreational building and, if funds and space can be found, a Can-Do Playground, which would be designed to be accessible to every child, regardless of physical, mental and sensory abilities.

“City council reviewed the Dover Park Master Plan in August of 2018 and staff has reviewed some of the recommendations that were made at that time,” said Matt Harline, Dover’s assistant city manager. “Staff still recommends that the city proceed with what was called ‘the final concept’ with some minor modifications.

“City council has had other options presented by members of the community since then (August 2018) and staff has been asked to return with options and preferred recommendations. The city still believes ‘the final concept’ is the best alternative and we actually have begun with implementation with parts of the plan.”

Space limitations for some projects

City Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. has been the leading voice in making improvements to Dover Park over the past several years and he thanked city staff for the progress they have made.

He also requested that a 3,600-square-foot indoor recreational facility “to be equated to what was demolished (at Dover Park) in 2013,” a skateboard park and a dog park to be constructed at Dover Park.

City Manager Donna Mitchell said there is simply not enough space for all those amenities to be squeezed into the park.

“What my concern is, is that the amenities provided in this study have so much square footage of space,” she said. “If you add a skate park and you add a dog park and you add a 3,600-square-foot building, something has to come out. There’s not enough space for all that in that park unless you take away other amenities.

“We have looked at a skate park and we have looked at a dog park and looking at our space limitations in our parks, staff came back with a recommendation that those would be a better fit at Schutte Park.”

City Council President Bill Hare agreed.

“I think Schutte Park might be a way to save space at Dover Park, because when you look at the population and where the majority is, it’s a lot easier to get to Schutte Park,” Mr. Hare said. “When you start downtown on Governors Avenue you can get to Schutte Park in nothing flat. I think that is just a better fit and would create a lot freer space at (Dover) Park and Schutte Park can have that skate park and the Can-Do (Playground).”

Regardless, Mrs. Mitchell said she does believe Dover Park needs an indoor recreational facility.

“This plan that we put together was done with a lot of public input and while it doesn’t have a 3,600-square-foot building it does have a 1,440-square-foot building,” said Mrs. Mitchell. “I do believe that we need a building.

“We need to reactivate the park and have activities so that the public feels safe and feel like it’s a part of the community.”

Mayor Robin Christiansen said he was pleased to hear that an indoor facility remains a part of the park’s future plans.

“I certainly am excited about the progress that we have made,” Mayor Christiansen said, about the revitalization of Dover Park. “Councilman Sudler, early on as chairman of Parks and Recreation, brought this to our attention and it’s something that has been bothering me for quite a bit of time. Council and the city let that building at Dover Park fall apart through obsolescence and ignoring the small amounts of maintenance (that needed to) be done.

“Previous councils have ignored their promise to replace that building and I commend the members of this council and city staff for taking the bull by the horns and fulfilling that promise to the citizens of the city of Dover, not just the 3rd and 4th Districts, but the citizens of the city of Dover to replace that much-needed building.”

Indoor facility at Towne Point?

The size of the building was left open because members of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance Social Action Committee, including Rev. Rita Mishoe Paige, the IMA Social Action chair, and Rev. Theodore Henderson, IMA president, are hoping to work out a deal to eventually purchase Towne Point Elementary School from the Capital School District in the future for an indoor facility which would host a wide array of programming.

“I would like to say that we did have a fruitful meeting with the (city),” Rev. Paige said. “What we really agreed was that part of the plan that Dover has already designed is a good plan incorporating a part of what the IMA has proposed as well. Even after that meeting I gave it some consideration and prayer and here’s what I would like to propose, and I have discussed this with the president of the IMA in his absence.

“I propose that we have two locations for the east side — an outside park facility (at Dover Park) as well as an indoor park facility (at Towne Point). At the last meeting, Col. (Thomas) Dix recommended that we have conversations with the Capital School District (regarding Towne Point). I am waiting to talk to the superintendent.”

If the IMA were to be able to secure the elementary school, then she believed the smaller indoor facility with restrooms would be enough for Dover Park visitors.

That’s why Councilman Sudler made an amendment to leave the square footage of an indoor facility at Dover Park open for now.

“In my opinion over the past couple of years we’ve been very progressive in our initiative at Dover Park and throughout the city of Dover in all parks,” he said. “There is no guarantee regarding Towne Point. I just don’t want the idea of an adequate facility to be lost in the sauce.”

City Council President Bill Hare agreed there are still many unknowns.

“There’s still a lot of unanswered questions,” he said. “I think there’s still some things that we can move ahead and do and things we can get started on, such as a skate park at Schutte Park. I think that would be good. As far as the building of anything goes (regarding an indoor facility at Dover Park), I think we really need to know what’s going to be happening with Towne Point before we can make a definite decision.”

For now, Dover Park is making progress toward becoming a cornerstone park for the city of Dover again.

City Councilman Matt Lindell and other representatives told city officials that consistent programming will be the key to sustaining success at Dover Park. Having people in the park tends to drive away the bad element, they said.

Mr. Harline said Dover Park deserves another chance, simply due to the neglect the city has shown it for more than a decade.

“In the 2020 Fiscal Year budget, the (walking) trail, the cameras and a parking lot expansion have been funded,” Mr. Harline said. “There’s also in the budget $195,000 toward a Can-Do Park, but this also anticipates $195,000 in grant funding. Without the grant funding, that project could not move forward.

“Dover Park is the third-largest park in the city and a very important part of our recreation amenities. I think it is fair and the staff would agree that it has not received all the love and attention that it probably deserves over the last 10 or 15 years.”

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

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