Dover's Parks, Recreation and Community Enhancement Committee held a meeting to discuss the future of the now-closed White Oak Park building.
A city committee has directed the Dover planning office to come up with a comprehensive, in-house review of the city’s recreation activities, with an eye toward ensuring all neighborhoods get equal chances at receiving future recreation dollars.
The unanimous decision came at the end of a Parks, Recreation and Community Enhancement Committee meeting, held Monday at the former Dover Park Recreation Center.
The building became the focus of community concern when plans were announced to demolish the structure, which has been closed for more than a year.
Former Dover City Council member Reuben Salters spoke out at a July 22 meeting asking council to reconsider the demolition plan.
Salters argued then that the Dover Park building, if renovated, could offer activities for children on the east side of the city who have trouble making the trip to Schutte, which is on the western edge of Dover.
Providing some sort of recreational activity for those children was a “moral necessity,” Salters said.
The problem with that plan, however, turned out to be whether or not the city could afford the renovations and if so, what use could be made of the building.
Most people look to Dover Park for its open-air activities, and not for some reason to use the building, said Planning and Community Development Director Ann Marie Townshend. The park provides picnic pavilions, two tennis courts, a basketball court and a softball field, among other outdoor amenities.
There are numerous problems with the building, as revealed by a recent survey, Townshend said, including water accumulation, mold and roof leakage. Her comments were underscored by the building’s musty smell, which was evident throughout the meeting.
Townshend said renovating the Dover Park building would cost upward of $200,000, which would include making the 40-year-old building handicap-accessible.
With the city facing a $7.5 million deficit over the next five years, that kind of money only could be obtained by delaying other projects or by raising city taxes, noted City Manager Scott Koenig.
Monday night’s conversation took a different turn, however, when Salters and others, including committee member Adam Perza, noted that in planning the new Schutte Park recreation area, including the John W. Pitts Recreation Center, the city had put other recreation areas on the back burner.
“Where are we in terms of long range and short term planning in terms of recreation?” asked city resident Edward T. Christian Jr. “We need to stop doing this piecemeal. We need to work together on a comprehensive plan for the city.”
The Rev. Ellis B. Louden, pastor of the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, concurred.
“I believe we need a comprehensive plan for the city of Dover to consider,” he said.
“We do have an immediate concern with [Dover Park], but the bottom line is the reason we are in this position is because we do not have a comprehensive recreation plan for the city of Dover.”
Working on that idea, committee Chairman Wallace R. Dixon took up the suggestion of an in-house study to review all of the city’s recreational needs, including how to use the Dover Park building. That review could take advantage of archived studies and staff expertise as well as saving money by not hiring an outside consultant, he said.
Comments and thoughts from residents throughout the city would be encouraged and sought, Dixon said. No timeline was given for completion of the review.
In the meantime, the city would again make parts of the Dover Park recreation building available for rental, allowing it to host family and community events.