ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Some members of Allentown City Council are very unhappy to learn a rebuilt Cedar Beach swimming pool won't open until next July — and skeptical it will even open by then.
At least one member of council also is disappointed to learn the amount of money contributed to a city youth organization by last summer's "Slide the City" event.
That concern spurred suggestions that the city should impose new fees on profit-making event organizers that come to Allentown next year.
Also during its Wednesday night meetings, council voted to fund a consultant's study that will determine if the leaking dam in west Allentown's Trexler Park should be repaired or removed, which would turn the park's pond back into a stream.
And council learned of city plans for a dog park, a skate park and the continuing restoration of WPA stonework — including the collapsed wall that closed a main entrance road into Lehigh Parkway.
A special City Council meeting was held early Wednesday evening to review the city's parks and recreation budget for 2016.
That proposed budget is $4,708,787, up three percent over this year, said Lindsay Taylor, Allentown's parks and recreation director.
One reason for that increase, she said, is the city needs to pay for a police presence at its swimming pools "especially during hot weather. We have to close the pools when they reach their attendance maximum. We can no longer allow people in."
She said other reasons for the increase include more participation in city basketball programs; additional and more varied summer concert performances; enhancing the summer playground program; installing, taking down and storing the city's Christmas tree, and additional special events costs.
Taylor told council she has "51 employees that are responsible for 40 parks, 2,000 acres and a variety of facilities. They are very, very, very busy."
Cedar Beach Pool
The city plans to spend about $1.3 million to overhaul and upgrade Cedar Beach Pool.
The pool never opened last summer because of a massive leak. "We lost over one million gallons of water," said Rick Holtzman, Allentown's parks superintendent.
When Taylor said that pool should open in July, council president Ray O'Connell responded: "Oh, man. If you open the pool in July, half the summer's over. That's a huge disappointment."
"It's absolutely unacceptable," agreed council member Jeanette Eichenwald.
"I agree with you," said Taylor.
She explained the project's designers didn't get their work done as quickly as the city needed it done.
"We've been pushing this as quickly and as far as we possibly could," said Holtzman. "We are upset. We'll push this as quickly as possible moving forward."
Holtzman said the city will go out for construction bids for the pool project late this week or early next week. He admitted he's concerned about bids coming back that will be astronomical.
With winter coming on, said council member Joe Davis, officials are being very optimistic in predicting the pool project will be done by July.
"It's tough finding contractors that are open for springtime work," said Davis. "That's their busiest time."
"You know what's going to happen," predicted O'Connell. "July will become August. August will become Labor Day. And we'll have nothing for the kids again."
O'Connell said it's not easy for children living near Cedar Beach to get to the other three city pools: Mack, Jordan and Irving.
He said the city knew something had to be done about Cedar Beach since March or April.
Holtzman said engineering work began about a month before the leak was discovered that kept the pool closed all summer.
Council member Cynthia Mota said she's just glad the pool finally will be properly fixed and is optimistic the project will be completed in a timely manner.
Holtzman said demolition of the existing pool will begin this winter, adding he hopes for "a nice warm winter."
The project will include replacing the pool's filtration system and the roof on the pool building, said Taylor.
Future of Trexler Park dam to be determined
During its main meeting, council agreed to pay Barry Isett & Associates $2,800 to determine whether the leaking dam in Trexler Park can be repaired and the pond restored.
The consultant may recommend removing the dam, in which case the pond would be gone, with only a stream flowing through its bed.
A sinkhole has formed under the dam, creating a breach and the loss of water, according to city officials.
That contract was one of more than a dozen agreements approved Wednesday night, under the city's new rules that City Council must approve all professional services contracts.
Complaint about "Slide the City"
O'Connell was very disappointed to learn organizers of "Slide the City" have contributed only $2,200 to Allentown Youth Organizations United to Help, especially because riding the slide was so expensive.
On Aug. 15, "Slide the City" operated a 1,000-foot-long water slide on North Ott Street, between Gordon Street and Cedar Creek Road.
Christy Alford, the city's events coordinator, said prices to ride the slide ranged from $20 to $50.
Saying "they made a lot of money," O'Connell expected operators of "Slide the City" would contribute $10,000 to $15,000 to the organization, which also is known as A-Youth.
Alford said "Slide the City" would have contributed more if A-Youth had gotten 80 volunteers to work that day, but it only got around 30.
When O'Connell asked if Alford was disappointed with the amount given to A-Youth, she said she would have preferred a flat donation unrelated to how many volunteers helped.
The event, she said, "went off really well from the public's point of view." But she agreed the organizers could be more supportive toward the city.
Eichenwald put it more bluntly: "They walked away with a wheelbarrow full of money. We should have gotten a bigger cut."
Higher fees for profit-making events?
Alford suggested the city eventually might charge higher fees to organizers of for-profit events that draw large crowds.
Eichenwald saw no reason to delay in creating such fees for for-profit events. Mota agreed.
But council took no formal action to approve any fees Wednesday night.
City Clerk Michael Hanlon said council still has time to amend the 2016 fee schedule before the city budget, with those fees, is approved in early December.
But Hanlon warned that, in the past, City Council has been told fees can only recover the city's costs.
Officials will check with the city solicitor's office to find out if Allentown can impose specific fees on for-profit events.
Taylor said other proposed events fees will enable the city to better recoup Allentown's costs when large groups run events in city parks "and really do impact our resources."
Taylor reported that 167 non-city events were held in Allentown's parks this year, plus 114 city-run events.
She said that included 42 5-K runs in Lehigh Parkway.
"There seems to be something incredibly unfair about people making a profit off our park system," said Eichenwald.
Ken Heffentrager of the Allentown Tenant Association objected to the proposed permit fee for neighborhood block parties being raised from $10 to $75 in 2016.
Heffentrager called that increase "ridiculous," indicating block parties help strengthen neighborhoods, many of which do not have wealthy residents.
Restoration of WPA stonework continues
The city is about to seek bids to rebuild the stone retaining wall in Lehigh Parkway, which collapsed in June, forcing the city to close the parkway entrance road off South Jefferson Street.
"We're hoping to start construction over the winter with a spring completion," said Holtzman. He said the work will include replacing the wall, repairing the road and refacing stone in the wall.
During its regular meeting Wednesday, City Council approved spending a $12,000 grant from the Century Fund to repair the hillside stairway near Fountain Park as well as other stonework in Union Terrace Park.
All that stonework originally was done by workers employed by the federal Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Holtzman said the work should begin in spring at Fountain Park, where landings on the stairs "are in dire need of concrete and stonework."
He said the steps, which were in very rough condition, already have been repaired.
The new work will focus on an estimated 15 stairway landings between Martin Luther King Drive and Spring Garden Street.
He said the masonry work then will continue at Union Terrace — on steps, stone walls, entranceways and amphitheater stage.
Taylor reported to council that this year, the parks department completed repairs to WPA structures in Andre Reed Park, as well as WPA stairs in Jordan, Fountain and Union Terrace parks.
Skate park, dog park and more
Next year the city will complete design work for a skate park being planned on the site of the clay tennis courts in Jordan Park.
Holtzman said those tennis courts are in "pretty rough shape" and don't get used very often.
Taylor said that skate park will be constructed in 2017.
She hopes a dog park "finally" will be installed in Allentown's Trout Creek Park.
Holtzman later said that park should be designed and built next year. He said it is being planned in the southern part of Trout Creek Park, near the intersection of Dixon and South Delaware streets.
Other 2016 improvements will include new pavilions in Cedar Beach and Jordan Park, a "fitness cluster" in Jordan Park, a new playground in Andre Reed Park and completing trail improvements in Trexler Park.
Taylor said next year the city also will begin a planning process — "that will take awhile" — to create park land on the site of an old fertilizer plant along Martin Luther King Drive and on the site of the city's old incinerator plant off Basin Street.
She said both now are brownfields, "but we believe those can be two fantastic additions for the city."
She said her department also will be completing master plans for Percy Ruhe and Valania parks, as well as designs for a new Jordan Park pool.
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