By Jim Newell
Orion Township’s Parks and Recreation Department is wrapping up its five-year master plan update and will have the plan open for public review in December.
“It’s been about a year process with our master plan. We’ve been working with a company to develop it,” said Parks and Recreation Director Aaron Whatley. “So, we’re at the final stage now. We have the first draft back and we’re making a few little revisions.”
On Nov. 14, Orion Twp. Parks and Recreation will have a draft master plan open to the public for review and will receive comments on the draft until Dec. 17. Copies of the draft will be at the Orion Center, Orion Township Hall, the Orion Twp. Public Library and online at www.orionparks.com.
“It’s an opportunity for the community to look at all of the information collected, survey results and really view the direction that the parks are going in over the next five years, and to give back more input,” Whatley said.
The deadline to approve the master plan is Feb. 18, 2019. The plan is expected to go before the township board for a public hearing and then approval at the board’s Jan. 7 meeting.
“Immediately following, during the same board meeting, we’ll ask for a resolution for adoption of the master plan,” Whatley said.
If the township board approves the plan, parks and recreation will submit it to the Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) for acceptance.
“Upon successful acceptance of the plan (by the DNR), we’ll be eligible for the next five years for recreational grants. A community has to have a recreational master plan to apply for large grants through the state,” Whatley said. “We get grants all the time. It’s quite amazing how successful the township is in getting grants.”
Orion Township received a $100,000 grant for lighting for the baseball fields at Friendship Park and for development of the Iron Belle Trail in the township, among others.
“(The master plan) really breaks down our inventory, what our mission is and some of the large capital outlay improvements we’re going to make over the next five years,” Whatley said. “I think a lot of it was proven during the August election. The community said, yes, we support our parks, we want to see these improvements, these capital enhancements.”
In the Aug. 7 primary election, more than 57 percent of voters approved a 5-year, 1-mill township parks and recreation millage request. The millage is estimated bring in more than $1.67 million in the first year, and will be levied from 2018-2022, with the township planning projects from the funds from 2019-2023.
Proceeds of the levy will be used for operation, programming, equipment, facilities, personnel, maintenance, acquisition, capital improvements and all related costs of the parks and recreation department.
Orion Township also developed and released a project list prior to the election, which detailed its plan for updating and enhancing the parks in a year-by-year breakdown. For the full list, see the Aug. 22 issue of The Lake Orion Review.
“What we promoted during that election cycle is exactly what our master plan is going to reflect,” Whatley said. “What we’ve said to the community is that we don’t want this millage just to supplement our budget; we want it to be an enhancement. And that’s how we’ve presented it to the township board, as an additional enhancement.”
The parks and recreation department presented an approximately $3.2 million budget to the township board for 2019, with around $1.2 million in capital outlay projects, including renovations to the Peterson Lodge at Camp Agawam, roof repairs on parks facilities and infrastructure improvements.
“Really, taking the things that have been pushed aside because we didn’t have the funding, and now we’re going to do it right, so we can preserve our facilities and green spaces for future generations,” Whatley said.
The department will move one project originally slated for 2020 up to 2019 because there is an opportunity to get additional funding.
“We budgeted $150,000 for restrooms and concessions at the Friendship Park baseball field. With our partnership on the Miracle League Field with Easterseals and Independence Township, there’s an opportunity to leverage their funds and potentially spend under $100,000, and it will serve both purposes. So, it’s saving us money there,” Whatley said.
The Miracle League project should begin in the spring when the snow breaks. “They’re confident that it will be constructed in 2019,” Whatley said.
Written comments about the parks and recreation master plan can be emailed to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, or dropped off at the parks and recreation office in the Orion Center.
“If people are interested in seeing our progress – and to make sure that we’re using their money wisely – follow us on our Facebook page. We’re going to make sure that we show the community every step along the way the progress and where the funds are being used,” Whatley said.