Planned Crown Park remodel enters final stretch

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Scout Hall in Camas' Crown Park is pictured May 12, 2022. The park, known as Camas' "outdoor living room," is slated for a remodel that includes an inclusive playground, interactive splash pad and a restroom. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record files)

It has been five years after Camas officials first approved a master plan for the city’s historic Crown Park, and two years since city council members — previously stymied by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on public construction projects — affirmed their interest in redesigning the entire park, but now the long-awaited remodel of Camas’ “outdoor living room” is on the cusp of realization. 

In late October, Camas Parks and Recreation Director Trang Lam reminded members of the Camas Parks and Recreation Commission that she had approached city officials in 2021, with options for the planned Crown Park remodel. 

“When we came to the Council in 2021 to revive the master plan, we had three choices: build the entire park; design major amenities (including) the splash pad, bathroom, new picnic shelter, inclusive playground … updated pathways and parking; or the third option — just build a bathroom and call it good,” Tram told Commission members during their Oct. 26 meeting. “Council told us to design the entire park.”
In the nearly two years since that decision, Lam was able to secure a $500,000 grant from the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office to help offset the $6.3 million Crown Park remodel.

“When we went to the RCO with our grant, we were conservative,” Lam told the parks commission members in October. “If we went with the footprint for the entire park, we would have to build the entire park to be compliant with the grant.”
Instead, Lam’s grant focused on major elements of the master plan: the restroom, interactive water feature, a new picnic shelter — the current picnic shelter will also remain — an inclusive playground, an open lawn area, stormwater planter and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant parking along Northeast 17th Avenue.  

To receive the $500,000 RCO grant, the city must complete those elements of the Crown Park master plan, but members of the Parks and Recreation Commission are urging the Camas City Council to move forward with construction on the entire Crown Park remodel. 

“The Council has overwhelmingly approved (remodeling) the entire park. They decided they wanted to continue moving forward,” Ellen Burton, the former Camas mayor who now heads the city’s parks commission, recently told The Post-Record. “The timing of this needs to be done years in advance. These things take so long. Look at Brady Road. It took us 12 years to get all that funding. So, the timing is critical. We received a $500,000 grant from RCO that needs construction on parts of the park to be completed by Oct. 31, 2025.” 

Since her hire in 2021, Lam has been able to secure millions of dollars in state grant funding for Camas’ parks projects. In July, the state awarded $2.25 million in RCO grants to the city of Camas to protect a greenbelt in the Green Mountain area, improve the South Lacamas Creek Trailhead and renovate Crown Park. Lam said the City had not received parks grant money “for about a decade” before this year’s grant funding. 

“We applied for grants, we just didn’t get awarded,” Lam told parks commissioners in October. “A decade later, thanks to my consultant team, we have three grants … (which account for) 36 percent of all RCO grant funding the City has ever received.” 

Following the Camas City Council’s unexpected veto this fall of a parks department sports field project already included in the city’s 2023-24 budget, Burton and other parks commission members feared Council members might also consider not moving forward with the final stretch of the Crown Park master plan, or vote to hold off on certain elements that would jeopardize the state RCO grant. 

“If you do just half a project, it tends to stay that way,” Burton said. “Look at the trails in Camas. They’re not connected because we’re doing them piecemeal. If we choose that route again, we will not be able to complete the park.” 

In October, the city’s parks and recreation commission voted to send a letter to the Camas City Council urging approval of the mayor’s proposed 2024 budget, which includes the Crown Park renovations as well as several other parks-related projects already underway. 

“Since the 2024 revenue projections have decreased and a parks project manager is no longer funded, the Commission recognizes priorities may change,” the Commission members said in a statement signed by Burton. 

The Commission said it saw three options Council members might take to address parks projects in light of the city’s recent projections showing Camas will have fewer revenues coming into its general fund in 2024 due to a slowdown in new housing construction and home sales: allowing the parks department to stay on its current path “focusing on systemic changes that protect current assets, build great parks and trails, and invest in our future,” while delaying planning for the Camas Community Center and a future swimming pool; reprioritizing the department’s work to “focus on the pool and community center, stopping work on current planning projects” and negatively impacting the parks department’s ability to obtain state grant funding; or reallocating resources to ensure the parks department can hire a project manager and move forward with all of the parks projects in the 2023-24 budget. 

The parks commissioners recommended the first and third options: staying on the current path and bumping discussions about the pool and community center to 2025-26, or finding funding for a parks project manager so the department can continue with all of its 2023-24 projects. 

“Then the department can continue delivering on our community driven vision and commitments,” the Commission members stated in their letter to Council, adding they appreciated the Council’s support “of our valued Camas parks, trails, open spaces and recreational programming, all of which contribute to what makes Camas a special place and our ‘small town feel.’”

Burton said continuing with the parks projects included in the 2023-24 budget, including moving forward with the bidding and construction phases of the Crown Park remodel, is critical to fulfilling what community members have told city officials they want to see from their city leaders. 

“The community has told us their priorities,” Burton noted. “They have said maintain what we have, fill in the gaps and improve trail connections, and develop and improve existing parks. If you look at Crown Park, it’s smack dab in the target of what the community has told us they want.”

Burton also detailed just how “historic” many elements inside Crown Park really are. 

The swingset in the park’s playground dates back to the 1930s and the sandbox is from the 1950s, Burton said. Scout Hall was built in 1934. The picnic shelter is from the late 1980s.

“There have been some updates over the past 20 to 40 years,” Burton said, “but this park has been our beloved outdoor living space since the 1930s — it is our outdoor living room where friends and families gather throughout the year — and it has not been renovated.”

Burton stressed that the $6.3 million Crown Park renovations, which are fully funded by the RCO grant, park impact fees, real estate excise taxes and a bond approved by city council members earlier this year, will not negatively impact the City’s general fund.

“Funding is secured and is not from the general fund,” Burton said. “We got a premium on the bond thanks to the City’s high (financial) rating, so we had better rates and got more money than we requested. We also have parks impact fees that are paid by new development and can only be used for parks and new construction … There is no general fund money so there is no competition here with police or fire (funding).” 

Camas Parks and Recreation Commission member Jason Irving agreed that city officials should continue to move forward with the Crown Park renovations. 

“You’ll hear from certain people, during parks commission meetings, ‘Hey, this master plan was done five years ago and we need to revisit it,’ but that is the typical progress of a project. If we were to go back and revisit the master plan every single time, it would be a never ending cycle of time and come at significant cost and nothing would get done,” Irving recently told The Post-Record. 

Asked what he hopes city officials will do when it comes to the final phases of the Crown Park remodel, Irving said he hopes Council members will remember that the Crown Park project represents what thousands of community members have said they want via open houses, surveys and public outreach over the past six years. 

“I hope they listen to the community and act on that and move forward,” Irving said. “It would be difficult and costly to continue revisiting the master plan.” 

Like Burton and other parks commission members, Irving also worries what would happen if the City is forced to return the RCO grant money due to a slowdown or pause on the Crown Park renovations. 

“If it stalls, it would put $500,000 in RCO funding in jeopardy,” Irving said. 

Even delaying the construction bidding process could put the entire project at risk, Irving said. 

“The timing of when you put a project out to bid can have a significant impact on price. Right now through the end of January is really the optimal time to get this project out to bid. And we know the costs aren’t going to go down. They will continue to escalate (if the bidding process is postponed).” 

Irving added that parks staff also have had to coordinate with partners, including the Camas School District, to plan for Crown Park construction in 2024 and 2025. 

“I commend Trang and her staff for thinking ahead and thinking about how this construction will impact events at Crown Park. To try to find space for those events has taken a lot of staff time,” Irving said. “If the (remodel) is delayed, that would be wasted time and would have to be done again.” 

Irving also said he is excited about the plans for the splash pad — something Burton said was never meant to be a replacement for the outdoor swimming pool the City was forced to decommission in 2017, due to safety concerns and a lack of funds to property maintain the pool, but rather as a companion to the City’s future public swimming pool. 

Irving said he knows Camas has a need for more ways to keep cool during heat waves. 

“Some (Camas residents) don’t have air conditioning in their homes or options to cool down when it’s hot outside,” Irving said. “And kids and the elderly are particularly susceptible to the heat. The splash pad will be a way to cool down … but it will also be good for the social aspect, getting together and making those connections. Having a pool will take a lot of planning and staff time. That is not something we anticipate happening in a short period of time. So the splash pad is a great option and is consistent with what we’ve heard from the community. They desired this type of (amenity) at Crown Park … and the splash pad is part of what we committed (to obtain) the RCO grant. If we do not install it, we lose the grant.” 

Behind scenes work to stay within budget

Lam said in October that the final design work showed costs for the entire park renovations would cost about $300,000 more than expected. 

“When we came to Council in 2021, we said we would stay within that $6.3 million budget,” Lam told parks commissioners in October. “At 90 percent full park design … $6.6 million is the full estimate.”
To get those costs in line with the $6.3 million OK’d by Council, Lam has recommended holding off on some elements not included in the RCO grant area, such as a multi-use sportscourt. 

Due to poor drainage, the City would need to build a stormwater facility to accommodate the sportscourt, Lam said, adding that, if the City removed the sportscourt plans from its Crown Park renovations, the parks department could still opt to restripe part of the existing tennis courts to accommodate pickleball players.

The City also will save money by ordering the restroom for Crown Park and for the South Lacamas Creek Trailhead — another RCO-funded project — at the same time. 

“Behind the scenes, we’ve looked at ways to reduce costs while still providing the amenities the community told us they wanted,” Burton said. “We talked to thousands of people … and we’re working with the priorities the community has given us. We look for partnerships and alternative funding … and are trying to find out-of-the-box solutions.” 

Burton added City is poised to save more than $1 million by moving the purchase of inclusive playground equipment and the Crown Park restroom out of the list of contractor responsibilities.

In fact, Lam is expected to ask Council members to approve the pre-order of the playground equipment and bathroom during the Dec. 4 city council workshop.

If all goes according to plan, the City will go out to bid in January 2024, and construction would begin in Crown Park in the spring of 2024. The City needs to complete the grant-funded portions of the renovations, which include the water feature – an interactive splash pad with a variety of elements to help youngsters and families keep cool during hot summer months – and the inclusive playground that also will cater to a wide range of abilities and ages.