After failing to secure funding last month for improvements to Westside Park in Chehalis, Parks and Facility Manager Andrew Hunziker returned to the Chehalis City Council with a new funding proposal at Monday night’s meeting.
Chehalis City Council members voted six to one to approve a funding package that will pay for a new playground, fencing and American with a Disabilities Act-compliant parking area and sidewalk.
Westside Park is located at 800 NW West St., just west of downtown Chehalis. It was originally built in 1894 as the playground for the Westside School, which served the Chehalis community until it was damaged in an earthquake in 1949. It is one of six parks owned by the City of Chehalis.
Hunziker’s previous proposal called for the city to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to pay for improvements, an idea the council rejected.
Following the initial rejection, the Chehalis City Council park and city council budget committees convened with Hunziker and advocated for funding park improvements.
Instead of using ARPA funds, Hunziker’s new proposal called for funding to be drawn from Chehalis’ park improvement fund and second quarter real estate excise taxes (REET). The REET fund is sourced out of taxes taken from real property sales, and $20,000 had previously been set aside in the park improvement fund specifically for Westside Park improvements.
“Just to clarify, the budget committee did have an opportunity to review this proposal and made that recommendation to the entire city council,” City Manager Jill Anderson added.
The original $20,000 set aside will be taken from the park improvement fund and $95,000 from the REET fund, giving the project a total of $115,000. It is the same amount Hunziker requested last month.
Of the total, $5,000 will be spent on engineering and environmental reports. The playground itself, along with an ADA-compliant pathway and parking, will cost $70,000, and fencing with gates and a concrete mow strip will cost $30,000.
An additional $10,000 was requested as a contingency for unexpected project expenses once construction begins.
Hunziker said the project is the first phase of Westside Park improvements, with more improvements planned in a second and possibly third phase. Chehalis Mayor Pro Tem Bob Spahr added that anyone interested in helping can donate money to the Chehalis Foundation specifically for Westside Park improvements.
“We’re going to need more money in the future to add (to the park). The sooner we get that, the quicker we can move on,” Spahr said.
To contribute, click the “donate today” button on the bottom of the foundation’s website at https://chehalisfoundation.org/. Ensure donations are earmarked for Westside Park.
“I’d just like to say ‘thank you’ to you guys for the process. It was good to take (the proposal) back and (have) the conversations. Appreciate you guys working with us on this and we’re pretty excited to get this going,” Hunziker told the council.
While six city council members voted to approve funding, Mayor Tony Ketchum opposed it as he believes there are other possible park restoration options not being explored.
Following the meeting, and before going into an executive session, Ketchum briefly explained his opposition. While he had multiple reasons for opposing it, his main issue was how he wanted to see Friends of Westside Park, a local nonprofit dedicated to restoring the park, continue with its efforts.
“Why not let those people evolve (their project), see where they're going, and not come in and just scoop (it) in as a city project and take over the project?” Ketchum said, later adding, “Don’t turn away help when people are coming to offer it.”
Construction of the new playground and park upgrades will begin once the playground’s structure has been received. According to Anderson, the goal is to have construction begin in late summer or in early fall.
“That being said, supply chain issues are still an issue. We will know more once we have an estimated time of delivery for the play structure,” Anderson stated in an email to The Chronicle.
Friends of Westside Park started working with the City of Chehalis over two years ago attempting to secure grant funding for park upgrades, but grants were never approved.
Friends of Westside Park is still looking for volunteers, donors and sponsors. Those interested can contact the group on Facebook or email email@example.com.