The project that never starts?

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So the Big Toy is being delayed.

Again.

It’s embarrassing, sad…and yet so predictable.

Clint Holland has been vocal in his opposition to the delay, with the main concern being the 3,000 children who helped design the play structure were promised last fall the structure would be built this September.

During the May 13 Keizer Parks Board meeting, Holland opined the project won’t get done next year, either.

Before you dismiss Holland’s comments as hyperbole, consider the merit behind them.

Delaying the build date from September 2014 to June 2015 isn’t the first delay for this project.

Plans for the play structure kicked into high gear when Will Stitt brought the idea up at the December 2012 Parks Board meeting.

Parks Board members, led by Richard Walsh, immediately loved the idea. Plans were made to fast track the project.

One of the early discussions was about funding. How much would it cost? Who could help foot the bill?

Then it was discovered the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department had a Local Government Grant with a lot of money available. It was a perfect fit. The only problem: the application was due in April and plans in early 2013 were still in the preliminary stages.

So the decision was made to push the project back to 2014. The idea was to spend the rest of 2013 getting details nailed down, getting full community support and have the project far along by the time the 2014 applications for the Local Government Grant were due.

Let’s fast forward a year and see what’s been accomplished.

Hey, at least we know the play structure will be going in the ‘big tree’ site – aka Site 1, aka Area B – between the amphitheater and the boat ramp at Keizer Rapids Park.

Wait, what’s that? Oh, sorry. That is the default spot for now, but the structure might go elsewhere. It just might go in the orchards off Chemawa Road. The recommendation to use Site 1/Area B/big tree was removed earlier this month.

A funny thing about those orchards. You see, they are in the city limits but they are not within the city’s Urban Growth Boundary (UGB). In order for the trees to be removed, the 28 acres have to become part of the UGB. That requires other entities such as Salem, Marion County and Polk County to sign off. It’s not exactly a fast process.

That led to talk about master planning for the entire park having to be done before the play structure can be built. After all, it wouldn’t work to build the Big Toy in Area B/Site 1/big tree site, only to find later it should go in the orchard.

Hence the project was pushed back nine months.

By the way, the city has known for years the UGB issue needed to be dealt with at some point. The master planning for the entire park has been necessary for quite some time, also. After all, a lot has changed since the plan was last updated in 2006.

Now, master plan and UGB processes are being used as convenient excuses to delay the Big Toy. And you wonder why Holland is so upset?

There was much hoopla when the Big Toy project was introduced to the community last November. The Keizer Civic Center was overflowing with families eager to see the design. It was made clear the structure would be built this September.

A couple of months later, the orchard site was first proposed, leading to the UGB and master plan discussion.

Since most city and project leaders seem to agree the process should be done—judging by the lack of public rebuttal—a fair question is: Why wasn’t this thought of last year?

Nearly 18 months after the idea of a community build play structure was so eagerly embraced, we don’t know where it will go. A few thousand dollars have been raised, but the project budget could be around $400,000 (which doesn’t include the volunteer labor). Several public hearings will be held this summer and fall to gather input from the public about the master planning process.

Most who have spoken about the delay have said something along the lines of, “Gee, I really hate to delay this. We said it would be done this year. But you know what? We need to make sure things are done correctly, so we have no choice.”

Most who have said such things appear to have gotten over their initial anger of the delay. Holland is an obvious exception.

While Holland went on yet another rant last week, mayor Lore Christopher—the one who brought up the orchard idea in January and has hung firmly to it since—muttered that Holland needs to “give it up” and accept the delay.

No, he shouldn’t. Holland is rightly frustrated, and being told to “get over it” is outright demeaning.

More than that, others should be angry over the issue and the treatment of Clint Holland.

When the mayor first voiced her opposition to the original site, no one was in the position to tell her “get over it, we’ve already picked the site.” Christopher, time and again, claims she isn’t a politician, but her personal preferences and behind-the-scenes maneuverings are holding up the Big Toy build. If that isn’t the definition of politicking, we would like to know what is.

This goes beyond the children of Keizer being promised one thing, then having it swiped out from under their noses—though that is pretty bad.

With 2013 being spent nailing down plans, issues such as the UGB and master planning should have been brought up and addressed.

Even better, those two issues should have been dealt with years ago instead of being delayed and only being brought up now.

That wasn’t done. And because of it, a promise — yes, Marlene Quinn, most rationale people would agree it was a promise — to the children of this community “has” to be broken. Maybe we can tell them Keizer is where dreams are broken.

Look at Holland’s concern from last week again. Given how the delays have intersected in the past few months, how confident are you the Big Toy will indeed be built next year?

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