By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Is construction of The Big Toy at Keizer Rapids Park project going to be pushed back?
For months, it has been known construction of the 10,000 square foot play structure will take place Sept. 17 to 21.
However, for the past three months there has been ongoing dialogue about where to put the structure. That came up as a suggestion to use a site in the orchard along Chemawa Road – part of 28 acres within city limits but not within Keizer’s Urban Growth Boundary.
While plans to move forward with the UGB process and update the city’s parks master plan are in full swing, concern has been raised about whether that could be done before mid-September.
Thus, talk of the construction being pushed back.
“I had heard about that,” project general coordinator Mark Caillier said April 18, following a talk with city manager Chris Eppley. “That is a possibility. It is being considered. My perspective is, with the questioning of siting and the 28 acres and so forth, there is a growing concern that if we add amenities without master planning the 28 acres we may not be satisfied with some of the things we do.”
Marlene Quinn, the Keizer City Councilor who is chairing the Community Build Task Force, said April 18 she expected to have a decision by Monday. Asked what the decision was prior to Monday night’s council meeting, Quinn indicated there was no answer yet.
“Council has to vote on it,” she said. “We will have everything known by the May 5 meeting. We won’t make a decision until then. We’re looking out for the best interest of everyone in the community.”
Caillier said not building in September would likely mean a delay of several months. There had already been some concerns expressed mid-September might run into weather issues.
“We’re not going to do it in the winter,” Caillier said of the project. “If it gets postponed, it would have to get postponed until about this time next year. But if you look at Keizer calendars, there are a lot of events at the end of April and in May. That gets until about this time next year. But if you look at Keizer calendars, there are a lot of events at the end of April and in May. That gets us almost into June.”
Advantages to a delay would include more time to complete the UGB and master planning process, more time to raise funds and an opportunity to look at possible sites more. Both Quinn and fellow councilor Jim Taylor last week expressed a desire to have a community meeting next month to discuss possible sites.
At a recent meeting, Bill Lawyer and Nate Brown – the city’s Public Works and Community Development directors, respectively – noted when the concept of the Big Toy first came up at the start of 2013, avoiding UGB issues was the suggestion.
“When the concept came up and the idea of expanding the UGB of those 28 acres, the approach at the time was that can’t be done without expanding the entire UGB of the city,” Lawyer said at the April 10 West Keizer Neighborhood Association meeting, noting Brown has had follow-up conversations with state and county leaders since.
Brown said “we had made more of an assumption it was a painful process,” but other agencies found it wasn’t going to be much additional work, since some had already been done as part of updating the city’s Housing Needs Analysis.
“It was then, ‘We don’t see why you would not go with this,’” Brown said.
Earlier this month, the Keizer Planning Commission tackled the master plan issue. By a 5-1 vote, commissioners agreed the Keizer Rapids Park master plan should be amended to include the extra 28 acres, with an emphasis on no trees in the orchard being taken down until the master plan process was done.
Lawyer estimated at the WKNA meeting the master plan revisions wouldn’t come to council until July at the earliest and more likely August or September. Delaying the build dates would thus allow for the process to be done more easily.
“If we’re going to do the master planning thing, my question is why are we building something before the master planning is done?” Caillier asked rhetorically.
Disadvantages to a delay would include changing a date many had looked forward to for months, keeping the momentum of the project going and figuring out just when the build would take place.
If the project is delayed, Caillier expects to hear grumbling about it.
“That’s going to be the initial response,” he said. “That was mine. When I talked to a couple of other guys, that was their response. But they’re not going to quit. If it’s the best decision, fine. I’m still preparing for September. I don’t have a choice. I can’t not prepare until someone tells me a decision has been made. I hope it happens with some speed.”
Several things would need to happen if there is a delay.
“We would need to make a decision and stick to it next time,” Caillier said. “We’ll take a hit with the momentum. But there are things we can do to keep the community involved. We’ve got several months that people need to keep their eye on the ball. I’m hoping we can make a decision and commit to it. Until then, I’m still preparing for September. But I’m also thinking about contingencies for other possibilities.”
The issue was a hot topic during Tuesday’s fundraising committee report, with co-chair Janet Carlson asking about it at the start of the meeting. Fellow co-chair Richard Walsh mentioned the master planning process would be discussed May 5, with the second question being if the Big Toy placement is included in that process.
“If it goes into the big look at every possibility, that process will probably result in a delay,” Walsh said.
Carlson had a couple of thoughts on that.
“I’m not sure that’s a bad thing,” she said of a possible delay. “In some ways we’re spinning our wheels. Larger issues are getting in the way. It’s hard to raise money when we’re so ambivalent about what we’re doing… It feels like we’re pressing towards something we’re not ready for.”
Clint Holland, however, was not thrilled about the idea of a delay.
“We promised the kids this would be built in September,” Holland said prior to the meeting. “Now I’m hearing we may be backing away from our commitment. That’s a big, big mistake. We need to keep our commitment to the kids that this would be built in September.”