Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen
The city is beefing up its team of park planners and assigning the work to one department to clear a backlog of projects.
Two more park planning positions are being created through the City of Ottawa’s corporate reorganization.
Dan Chenier, the general manager of parks and recreation, said his department will now take charge of all park planning, rather than having the responsibility straddle the parks department and planning department.
“One of the things the city manager heard is we have so many projects now that there’s a backlog of projects,” Chenier said in an interview. “We need more capacity to turn out more projects more quickly.”
Chenier said the backlog of projects has been a “chronic condition.”
There are about 17 projects in the queue.
Sixteen park planners will now be in charge of projects through inception, construction and maintenance.
The amount of work required is significant, considering there are 1,835 play structures, 478 sports fields and 284 ball diamonds in the city’s portfolio. There are 4,135 hectares of parkland that need monitoring for upkeep, with more being added as the city grows.
“The new opportunity is we have a larger pool (of planners) to spread this work around,” Chenier said.
There is a high demand from councillors to create parks, replace playground equipment or make repairs.
Each of the 23 wards has a reserve fund collecting “cash-in-lieu of parkland.” Developers must provide parkland in new projects, and if they can’t, they have to pay cash to the city. Sixty per cent of the money stays in a parkland fund for the ward and the rest goes into a citywide fund.
The city’s last cash-in-lieu of parkland update at the end of September showed there was $11 million spread across the 23 ward accounts. Some wards have much more money than others, especially those areas with significant development, such as the downtown. Together with the citywide fund and a special fund for the Preston-Carling district, there’s more than $14 million in cash-in-lieu of parkland accounts.
The city was temporarily funding two parks planners from the cash-in-lieu of parkland funds to help with the backlog of projects, but the temporary nature of the contracts led to a high turnover in staff.
Capital Coun. David Chernushenko has been pushing the city to address the lack of resources for creating new parks.
“I made it a top priority when I met with the city manager,” Chernushenko said.
A councillor can’t get a new park or a slide fixed without receiving expert advise from a planner. The bigger projects usually call for public consultation, which is what makes the planning jobs critical to advancing a project.
“It’s more important than it looks,” Chernushenko said.
On top of the redeployed staff, the draft 2017 budget proposes an extra $820,000 between operating and capital accounts to renew parks.
College Coun. Rick Chiarelli said he’s eager to learn the city’s plan for park upgrades in 2017.
“I think it’s important because people, especially in existing neighbourhoods, are looking for minor improvements to their parks,” Chiarelli said.
Chiarelli said the city has fallen behind fixing tennis courts.
According to Chenier, some of the new money could help repair tennis courts. Many of the court surfaces are cracked and the city has traditionally been able to renew only three or four annually, Chenier said.