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Travers Park project concerns citizens

by BEAUX WHITE EAGLE
Staff Writer | April 25, 2023 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — Placement of the tennis court at Travers Park raised concerns at a recent council meeting.

In 2022, the city began work to update Travers Park with the help of architecture and landscape experts. Together, along with the input from the community through surveys and workshops, the city created the Travers Park concept plan.

The park is expected to see several updates, according to the plan, including a long-anticipated skate park expansion, a new trailhead entryway, restrooms, the James E. Russell Sports Center, updated tennis courts, and a new playground that will have a theme of "into the woods" and a splash pad.

Following public input in January, city officials worked with Mike Terrell Landscape Architecture to refine a concept design for the project's first phase at Travers Park, outline project costs and seek funding opportunities, including the Land Water Conservation Fund grant, which was sought in late January.

With the grant, the city will have the funding necessary to begin construction on the sports complex, which will be multi-use with tennis and pickleball courts. Full timelines and descriptions of the project found on the city website show that the city has 50% of the funds needed and, that pending the outcome of the grant application, construction of the playground renovation would begin in 2024.

In February, Planning and Development Manager Maeve Nevins-Lavtar told the council that the skatepark expansion is on track to begin this fall and gave a detailed look at the sports complex location as well as plans for a renovated playground. Showing the council a rendering of the future landscape, Nevins-Lavtar said the playground would be shifted to the west to accommodate the sports complex being built adjacent to existing tennis courts.

However, that decision has sparked some concern, with several citizens stepping forward during the public forum specifically to address their concerns about the playground.

At the early April meeting, Rebecca Holland told the council during the public forum portion of the meeting that she was disappointed with where the plan places the sports complex.

”I take no pleasure in standing before you to say how disappointed I am with this body. I once thought you genuinely cared about our area's families, but I've witnessed too many decisions which are undermining our family-friendly hometown," Holland said. "The latest bad decision is to tear down the Travers Park playground equipment to make way for a very large tall building for tennis.”

Holland said her concern came from the uncertainty of the playground rebuild due to the fluctuation of funding and that she had started a petition to urge the council to find a different solution.

“It's easy to say you'll rebuild it and add the splash pad as you've been telling people but you're not being truthful, knowing how funding works. There's no guarantee a half-million dollar state grant will come in,” Holland said. “Your plan can all fall apart as we've seen before with other plans. Case in point, the bike path for the kids to the downtown core was once a solid plan, but poof, there it went."

The Russell family's generous gift was intended to honor a man who played as a young child in the community, Holland said.

“I believe he'd be hard-pressed to tear down this perfectly good playground," she added. "A better decision needs to be made that will work for both the tennis community and our local children.”

Holland spoke again on the issue last week and was joined in her concern by Teresa Stevens, daughter of the park's namesake, Frank Travers. Stevens told the council that she was proud of her father's work in preserving the community for the lives of the community's youth. She said her concern is for the children as well as how much that playground means to the community.

“If there's a big tennis building there, it's going to take away from the space that's there for children," she said. "So I feel we have to spend money on more parks rather than changing Travers Park in any way. It's just wonderful for the kids. The equipment that is there is great for kids. To undo that, to put in these tennis courts would be expensive and where would our moms go with their kids,” Stevens said.

Another of Frank Travers' children, John Travers, shared his sister's sentiments, reminding the council of the love his father had for baseball — a love that he shares. Driving past the park every day, seeing the ballpark, and children playing at the playground fills him with pride over what his father inspired.

“I'd like to be able to drive by that park and see that it's a ballpark. Not a big building that is taking up the room for the kids to play or [be] on the swings," John Travers said. "It's a really important park and too crowded; we need more parks.”

Echoing Holland's comments, Monica Gunter said she is worried whether plans for the playground will come to fruition. She appreciates the Russell family's gift but said the proposed location is not the right spot for the sports complex.

“We appreciate their gift. We want this gift to take footing and someplace other than over the playground at Travers Park when you drive by that park," she said. "My daughter works at the dental office right across the street. She said that the park is full of kids all day long and the schools go to that playground. They walk down the streets from all directions and take the school to that playground."

Currently, the plans for the playground outline said the playground will still be operational during the construction period with the existing equipment being utilized to ensure the children of the community will still have a place to make their childhood memories.