One of Worthington's most-used parks finally has a plan for a facelift, though it will cost a popular community garden some of its breadth.
City staff members and the parks and recreation commission have been working for nearly a year to develop a "master plan" for upgrades and renovations at McCord Park, 333 E. Wilson Bridge Road. The park is next door to the Worthington Community Center, 345 E. Wilson Bridge Road.
However, when planning began for the park's future, amenities, trails and other additions were prioritized over a community garden already at the park, according to parks and recreation director Darren Hurley.
Hurley said the commission identified "six or seven" additions or expansions that would infringe on the garden space.
"They just tried to look at some of the drafted plans of how it all fits in there, and I think they got to the point where they said, 'Of all these things, the garden could likely happen in another park location,' " he said.
When the community garden seemed in jeopardy, Hurley said, gardeners and others began making their opinions known. They attended meetings, wrote letters and lobbied the city to leave the garden alone.
"I knew that the gardeners themselves were passionate, and certainly we had talked to them before any plan went out, so we knew they were going to be enthusiastic about it," he said. "It was kind of a good and bad thing. It's great that there's so much passion about gardening, but it was kind of bad that it set up kind of a controversial process for it."
Hurley said although he was surprised by "how passionate" the garden supporters were, he understood their frustration and their arguments.
"You understand because some of those gardeners have been working in the same spot for seven or eight years at this point," he said.
When Hurley and the commission were ready to bring their recommendations to Worthington City Council on May 21, they provided three options: They could go with the recommended option of greatly reducing the size of the garden, they could leave the garden untouched or they could compromise with a plan that kept the garden at about 80 percent of its size.
By the time the meeting came around, council President Bonnie Michael said, she had received "lots" of letters and calls and had spoken to many people with arguments "on both sides" of the debate, meaning she expected strong opinions at the meeting.
"When you have a number of phone calls and lots of letter, it's not a surprise when the meeting hits and there's contention," she said.
Ultimately, City Council chose the plan of compromise, eliminating about 20 percent of the garden space in favor of a variety of amenities.
With a master plan in place, the city still must complete official design work and bid the project.
Hurley said after "fine-tuning" the design, he hopes City Council would fund design work in 2019 before determining the cost of the whole project.
At this point, he said, it's too early for a good estimate on its cost or when it would be completed.
"The question now is how many years it will take to get it all done," he said.
The new plan calls for a railroad observation deck, a "full renovation" of "dated" playground equipment, a half-mile walking trail and two reservable shelters – the first of their kind in Worthington.
Hurley said city leaders also are "very excited" to renovate baseball diamonds and soccer fields and add restrooms and concession and storage areas. And for the gardeners, Hurley promised that their enthusiasm has been noted. He said his department "feels good" about the compromise and plans to add community-garden spaces to other parks around town.
"All the things on the list were good things; it's just that sometimes you have to make some choices about how much and what degree," he said. "The good news is that either way, we're looking to add gardening space. So now we'll look to not only recover spaces we remove from McCord Park, but we'll be adding even more, so the net will be more gardening than we have now."
Michael said the resolution was a good one, as well.
"As it gets further along in development, there might be some things we need to review and there might not be," she said. "But right now, we have a compromise and community moving forward and something developers can work from to finally get a plan to move forward."
For more information on the renovation plans, go to worthington.org.