Mansfield Looks To The Future With Master Parks Plan
Like most great cities, Mansfield prides itself on thinking ahead. And they are doing so once again with their parks and recreation 10-year master plan that is currently being revealed for public feedback.
The master plan looked at a few key factors, said Ann Beck, the city’s marketing and communications manager for parks and rec, what they have, what they need and what they want.
“The inventory is an honest assessment of our parks, which we have found are aging and not evenly distributed throughout the city, largely due to the rapid growth of some areas,” Beck said. “What we need is a combination of benchmark comparisons, looking at similar communities and how we stack up as far as amenity options, and park standards.”
Standards are industry-accepted calculations based on population, as in a city should have one playground for every 3,500 residents, for example. They are adjusted by each community to account for local trends, climate and land availability, and socioeconomic makeup.
Feedback & Focus Groups Shape Plans
“And then what we want is based on our first round of public feedback; an online survey, public meetings, focus groups and other community input, as well as key demographic and demand trends,” she said. “For example, the fastest growing segment of Mansfield’s population is age 55-plus, so we need to plan for facilities that will serve those residents.
“We also know that recreation sports participation is declining, so we don’t need to increase the number of playing fields by as much as previously thought.”
Beck said overall, what was found is that Mansfield has an award-winning parks system that is well maintained and well loved by the community. However, it has not been able to keep up with the city’s rapid growth and is now lacking in much-needed facilities and amenities.
“Facing another ten years of growth, it’s crucial we start catching up soon to avoid falling further behind,” she said.
The key focus areas that emerged were:
*Playgrounds – almost all of which need to be replaced over the next 10 years, and are not evenly distributed throughout the city to serve all residents.
*Athletic fields – which need major renovations in quality but not necessarily quantity.
*Trails – which are the most popular amenity and help even out park distribution by increasing access to parks, but many more miles are needed to meet demands.
*Recreation and aquatics – highest priorities to add based on both public feedback and needs assessments are a large, multigenerational rec center with fitness and aquatics and more aquatic facilities overall.
The draft projects, key themes and focus areas are all available on the city’s website mansfieldtexas.gov/masterplan. There, folks can take the online survey before Sept. 10 to let officials know if citizens think they’re on the right track.
Residents also got a chance to ask questions at a recent open house and a virtual town hall meeting on Facebook. In addition, city officials are having regular conversations on Facebook, daily polls on Instagram and Facebook stories and staff available for further input.
Decisions Are Reflections Of Citizens Wants and Needs
“This has absolutely been a citizen-driven initiative from the start. The parks exist because of the people who use them, so it’s absolutely crucial to us that the decisions made for the future reflect what our residents want and need,” Beck said. “The draft was shaped not only by our first round of public feedback, but also by a lot of data analysis looking at the residents of the future, how many will we have, where will they live, what ages will they be.
“We also looked at parks and recreation trends, what sports or activities are growing, and which are fading? How are people using parks now versus in the past, and how will they need to use them in the future? It’s a lot to cover, but it’s all centered around what is best for our citizens.
“Now that we have a draft for the public to review, we need their help narrowing it down. We have too many projects than can be feasibly tackled in the next decade, and need to know what’s most important. Based on this round of public feedback, we will be able to make a final project list and put the projects in a priority order so we know not just what to do, but when to do it. This feedback is crucial to designing the final plan and implementation.”
Why a 10-year plan?
Beck said because the city is always thinking ahead.
“City planning is a bit like building a house. You don’t draw up plans for the kitchen and build it, then start designing the living room,” she said. “You have to have a full plan for the entire project first to make sure you keep everything on the same track, where it needs to be and serving the right purposes. We have to have an end game in mind to make smart decisions on a daily basis so we aren’t doing things now that might cause issues down the road.
“More than anything, a master plan makes our department’s visions and priorities both clear and accountable to staff, leadership and stakeholders. Put simply, it is a way for us to define what we are doing and why.”
Beck also noted that Mansfield has grown quickly over the past 20 years, and will likely be completely built out by the next 20.
“This 10-year plan is really an end-game vision for the department and these decisions over the next decade are going to be increasingly important. We want to make them with the needs and demands of our citizens first and foremost in mind,” she said.
Half-Cent Sales Tax Helps Fund Park Operations
Most of the parks department’s operations come from half-cent sales tax, which was an initiative approved by voters in 1992 to fund park development.
“It’s been great for the department, growing as our community does without adding a burden on property owners, but it’s not enough to fund a large-scale project like a multigenerational rec center with fitness and aquatics, currently our highest priority, or big athletic complex,” Beck said. “There are a number of other options for funding, including grants (which have funded a number of park projects over the years), corporate sponsorship, general fund allocation and bond packages.
“Once the plan is adopted, staff will look at how best to place the projects on our strategic business plan based on priority and funding available. At that point, they will have a better idea of what sort of alternative funding is needed and how best to approach it.””
Once the plan is approved, city staff will immediately begin placing projects onto the strategic business plan based on budget and priority.
“We don’t have any sort of start date until we know what we’re going to try and build and in what order,” Beck said. “There are a lot of other decisions at play, namely available land and funds, but we have to start with the project list, which is what we need the public’s help to determine.”
The master plan needs to be adopted by Mansfield Park Facilities Development Corporation, Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council. Beck said the goal is to have all of that done by the end of October.