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Dunedin planners seek public input on park improvement vision

DUNEDIN — Highlander Park would gain two more baseball fields.

Families could play on water slides at a new pool inside a new aquatic center.

Firefighters might improve their response times, thanks to a new fire station closer to the park's entrance and away from heavy special-event traffic.

All these amenities and more would become a reality under the city's proposed update to the Highlander Park master plan.

But before planners take their proposal to the City Commission for approval, they're soliciting citizen feedback through several community meetings. The first public meeting was Wednesday night. Another is set for Aug. 17.

"We're holding these meetings to make sure we listen to (residents) and what amenities they want to see and make sure it's the park they envision because they're going to be the users of the facilities," said Lanie Sheets, special projects coordinator in Dunedin's Parks and Recreation Department.

Officials stress that the plan is entirely conceptual right now.

"We haven't identified funds for a majority of this work, and once we have a vision in place, we will look to incorporating elements as we're able to do so through the budget process," Sheets said. "But the time line on that and the funding sources are yet to be determined."

The city says updates to 70-acre Highlander Park are long overdue. For example, the play equipment near the sprayground is badly rusted. Several of the park's seven baseball fields haven't been renovated in more than 20 years, and there aren't enough to accommodate organizations that want space for games and practices.

Having a master plan in place will help officials decide how to budget and where to build facilities as they find funding for replacements and renovations, said parks and recreation director Vince Gizzi.

The conceptual plan presented Wednesday includes the following elements:

• Fire Station 61 would move northeast, to the corner of Michigan Boulevard and Ed Eckert Drive, on the site of the recycling center at the park's front entrance. The city would look for a new site for the recycling center. The city would use the old fire station for storage.

• The park would get an extra tennis court, for a total of eight. The courts would be moved northwest to a spot near the current fire station. That would "give them their own dedicated tennis space, rather than being tucked in around other amenities," Sheets said. Relocating the tennis courts and using under-utilized green space would lead to 172 new parking spaces.

• The batting cages and baseball and softball fields would move to the southern portion of the park. By designing the fields in two pinwheel formations, the city would be able to add two fields, for a total of nine. The city expects it could gain revenue by renting out the fields to outside organizations. Officials have already proposed using $370,000 of next year's budget to replace the obsolete Little League clubhouse. If approved by commissioners in September, the project would feature a bathroom, a concession stand, a press box, storage space and meeting rooms.

• The east side of the park, near the community center, would continue to be used for special parking and events.

But perhaps the highest priority, Gizzi said, is replacing the city's aging pool. The 35-year-old facility has sprung several leaks, the plumbing requires frequent repairs and the pool shell is separating from the deck.

The new pool would be built inside an aquatic center, which officials want to construct to the east of the existing children's sprayground. A nearby playground and surrounding pavilions would shift to the north of the center.

Taking a cue from a study conducted several years ago, the city has proposed adding water slides and other fun pool features that would create a family-friendly atmosphere to "keep families at the facility for hours — not just for a swim lesson or a lap swim," Gizzi said.

The city would institute an as-yet-undetermined admission charge for the year-round aquatic complex and adjoining sprayground, officials said.

The roughly 30 residents and city staffers who attended Wednesday night's public meeting fired off questions.

Where would the nature center go? (Architects said they will look for a way to incorporate it into the plan).

Would cyclists on the Pinellas Trail be able to access Highlander Park while riding through the nearby Hammock Park? (Yes, officials said.)

Could the Dunedin Community Center's fitness area be moved into the new aquatic center? (Architects said they'd take that into consideration).

But one of the most pressing questions was about whether the proposed plan would disrupt the park's green space or disturb the treeline that blocks ballfield lights from surrounding homes. Officials said no.

"The current layout of the existing amenities isn't the most efficient use of the space. The fields are just kind of scattered around the complex," Sheets said. "If we are able to realign them someday, we hope to gain some open space from that process."

Keyonna Summers can be reached at ksummers@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

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Up next

The city's second public meeting on the Highlander Park master plan will be at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 17 at the Dunedin Community Center, 1920 Pinehurst Road. Architects from Collman & Karsky will present a revamped park map using feedback from the first meeting and a steering committee including tennis and Little League players, special event promoters, pool users and others.

Dunedin planners seek public input on park improvement vision 07/14/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 14, 2011 9:05pm]

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