Q&A 2003

Editor's Note: Practices and procedures at parks and recreation departments are not usually one-size-fits-all solutions. There are some things that are universal -- like safety regulations -- but the variables that go into making a program or facility work best are legion and based heavily upon the needs and demographics of the locale.

We recently polled parks and recreation professionals from around the country for our annual Q&A feature and got some interesting responses, representing a diversity of subjects and opinions.

It's our hope that you learn something of value and find a nugget of insight, inspiration or raw information. Or better yet, all of the above...

Next year, we'll continue to expand on this concept but need your participation. Do you have a question that crops up a lot, and you don't have a good answer?

Whether you have questions or have some great answers to the challenges of running a parks and recreation department, we'd like to hear from you.

Send us an e-mail at editor@northstarpubs.com, give us a call at (830) 257-1012, fax us at (830) 257-1020 or go to www.parksandrecbusiness.com.

Q: It seems that tighter-economy budget cuts are translating to smaller inventories of maintenance items such as lawn and garden tools, cleaning supplies, light bulbs, etc. How does the parks and recreation professional maintain and/or find that proper level of inventory to be sure stock is always available for these mandatory items?

A: Many purchasing divisions now employ a level of JIT (just in time) inventory by shifting the "storage" requirements to the supplier. That is to say that all of the bids are written on an as-needed basis.

Vendors are asked to provide a price based on the buyer's simple request of the item, not the quantity, be it 1 or 20 (for example, one square-ended shovel = $3.25, 20 = $65). In this regard, the buyer is not required to store 20 shovels for a total cost of $65. Instead, he may need three (total $9.75) for that particular year and end up saving $55.25 in unnecessary stock.

Might the buyer overpay by not providing an absolute estimate that the supplier could discount? Perhaps, but the margin is slim and likely smaller than the cost of carrying extra inventory.

As you monitor your needs, the amount of shelf stock becomes more easily estimated but with the as-needed method, minimum estimates are never even required. It's a win-win for both buyer and supplier.

-- Ronald D. Ciancutti is the purchasing manager for Cleveland Metroparks, a metropolitan park system that encircles Cuyahoga County and includes more than 20,000 acres of natural land, six golf courses, seven nature centers, a variety of special interest facilities and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Ron can be reached at rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com.


A: In light of the current economy, many of you are facing some pretty severe budget cuts. Several things come to mind on how to cope with these situations…

First is to remember that safety is the biggest issue you face. You must provide a safe playing surface even if it is not the best looking. Regular dragging of the fields to keep them level and keep base plugs at grade is essential. Making sure safety signs are installed and readable and performing pre-game safety checks should be continued.

In terms of the fields themselves, look for any waste in supplies or manpower. For example, you might be able to apply broadleaf weed control or pre-emergent weed control every other year and still have satisfactory results.

Divide your fields into different management categories so you are using your manpower and supplies where they are needed most.

Look for additional ways to fund or accomplish work on your fields. For instance, user groups can line and drag fields and booster clubs can raise money for equipment or supplies.

Oftentimes, when manpower is cut, it is easier to justify purchasing new equipment to take up the slack. In general, equipment is cheaper than labor. Finally, put together a good PR campaign. Let people know why your fields are not up to snuff and work with them to find the right solutions.

-- Dale Getz is a Certified Sport Field Manager (CSFM) for The Toro Company. Getz has 18 years of experience in turf management, including 12 years as the athletic facilities manager at the University of Notre Dame.

Q: What steps have you taken to reduce daily and seasonal maintenance at your ball diamonds?

A: We have implemented several things both on and off our three actual diamonds. This year we installed the Permaline permanent foul lines made with artificial turf and loose infill. Our crews installed this product in a short time on three outfields with the result being straight and bright foul lines.

We are pleased with the results and project our payback on this product will be within three years. This product eliminates weekly painting of foul lines and also eliminates crooked lines.

Our crews installed 20' high permanent steel foul poles with the mesh top replacing wood poles that required painting and replacement every couple of years.

We have also gone to the two-colored plastic signs that have the letters routed to a contrasting color. These include the distance signs, home/visitor dugout, warning signs, and so on.

We have installed new aluminum bleachers to bring our bleachers not only up to current code, but to reduce the painting needed on old 27-year-old rusted framed bleachers.

In addition, we use the solid rubber 3" thick home plates with direct bury and also the direct bury pitching rubbers instead of the type with the pegs in them. We do receive several years of use by doing this and can drag right over them, if necessary.

Finally, we use a Cushman three wheeled ball diamond grooming machine that scarifies, levels and rakes in one operation. This has greatly reduced the needed manpower to properly prepare our fields for play each night.

-- Bob Holling is the Director of Parks, Recreation & Forestry for the City of Sun Prairie, Wis.

Q: How are you reducing other park maintenance items to concentrate on the bigger projects?

A: We constantly need to do more with less, so we have been able to draw upon some available funding to use the solid plastic material combined with a curved steel arch to install new park signs in 30 of our parks this past fall.

These signs replace all wood signs with routed letters that required re-painting about every other year. The new signs will last a lot longer without needing much attention.

In addition, we are using the new two color solid plastic signs on all of our new trail signs, including stop, turn, bike, rest areas, etc. These are being mounted on treated wood posts that are not stained or painted. Besides reducing the need for maintenance, they look a lot better!

For the past few years we have used the PVC coated picnic tables and park benches with a great deal of success. These are for new park areas and we are eliminating the wood as much as possible, since we constantly replace carved and/or broken boards. The PVC tables and benches have held up well in terms of weather and color.

For basketball courts, we have used the Bison heavy chain link net for many years with great success. They are strong and last for several years in some cases. In park settings, they simply are the answer for us. I know there are some solid fabric nets on the market, so you may want to look at those.

We are replacing the old 55-gallon drum that doubles as a trash container with the PVC coated receptacle and dome lid top that will eliminate re-painting, the "dented" look and litter scattered all over. We have done this during the past two years and will be completing this upgrade during the next two years.

In regards to daily operations, we have increased our riding mower size from a 6' cut to an 11' cut. As we have taken more park land to maintain, we have been fortunate to show that the larger mowers have been a big plus to not having to add more people, but to use them more efficiently.

We have also used the metal roofs on some park shelters with good success, which eliminates the re-roofing or patch work roofs that shingled roofs were leaving us with.

Finally, just be aware of color schemes on playgrounds that you select. The bright colors have faded quickly in the past and then need some attention if you want to maintain a good image in your park system.

When we have had to re-paint some equipment, we have found it to be much more cost effective to hire a professional painting contractor to complete this work.

-- Bob Holling

Q: In the September issue of Parks & Rec Business, The Skatepark Decision Part 9 (page 12) it was mentioned that Phase II of Denver's 60,000 square foot skatepark included $100,000 in repairs on Phase I. How did those costs break down?

A: That $100,000 figure included repairs, modifications and additions to the park as a whole. Repairs to Phase I, which totaled $43,151, included flatwork crack repair, crack repair to the bowls/ramps, sealing of existing coping and additions of steel angle iron to curbs and walls.

Additions and modifications to Phase I, totaling $63,840, included tree grates and guards, concrete seat walls around the perimeter, concrete splash strip/mowstrip and irrigation improvements.

We're still trying to figure out if utilizing a colored concrete additive contributed to some of the concrete cracking since other concrete parks in the area (designed and constructed by the same consultant and contractor) show little, if any, cracking. Also, we learned to protect the edges with angle iron, rather than having the raw concrete edge exposed.

-- Mark Bernstein is a Senior Landscape Architect in Denver's Parks Planning, Design and Construction department.

Q: How do I establish a price for a service or program?

A: One must consider several aspects while setting prices: Political aspects, the objectives of your pricing and the stages of establishing a price.

In many communities, public opposition to fees, or fee increases is an issue. Therefore, pricing can become political and elected officials must be provided reasonable and logical justification for prices based on income redistribution, equity and efficiency.

There are typically four objectives to pricing:

Income redistribution or the decision of services or programs being supported or not being supported by taxes;

Equity -– everyone wants a fair price, but consideration should be given to the notion that those who benefit should pay for it;

Efficiency should always be an objective so that the community derives the maximum possible benefit from the services offered and from the scarce resources used to finance those services;

Revenue production, which should consider the availability and price of substitute services, the proportion of total costs that the direct cost represents and the ability to pay of the target market.

The stages in pricing begin with determining the proportion of the costs or types of costs which the price should recover. This is highly dependent on your objectives and must be established before the second stage of determining the going rate. That rate is determined through surveys of services offered by other government agencies as well as commercial private suppliers.

Then one must examine differential pricing opportunities such as: participant categories -- such as youth vs. adult, resident vs. non-resident; time -- such as peak time vs. non-peak, weekday vs. weekend; quantity of use -- such as season passes; and incentives or special pricing designed to entice people to try a program.

The final stage considers psychological dimensions such as the image of the agency and the price-quality relationship –- are you the Wal-Mart or Neiman Marcus?

-- John Powers is the Parks and Recreation Director for the Community Association of The Woodlands, Texas.

Q: What can I do to encourage parents/guardians to arrive on time to pickup their day campers?

A: This has become more of a problem as a lot of parents rely on day camps as daycare to help them make it through their workday.

Reminding parents/guardians about the established pickup time or sending the message that late pickups are unacceptable might have an effect but it could be a negative one.

Why not consider a more positive and lucrative strategy? There may be people who are racing against the clock and fighting traffic to get there on time who would be willing to pay for some extra supervision.

Give the option of an hour of additional camp programming that can be purchased at a reasonable rate -- enough to pay for the supervision and supplies to implement it and affordable enough for the commuting parent/guardian who appreciates some extra breathing room between work and the scheduled pickup.

-- Dr. Susan Langlois has more than 20 years of experience as a college professor, athletic administrator, camp director and sport facilities consultant. She is currently the Dean of Sports Science at Endicott College.

Q: Unacceptable parental behavior has become an issue at many of our recreational soccer league games. What can be done?

A: Many communities are having parents sign a "Code of Conduct" contract before their son or daughter participates in recreational activities.

Some communities also provide parenting training seminars for their parents. The NYSCA has "Guidelines for Communities", which deals with parental behavior, how to write a contract, what types of behavior to expect, how to deal with inappropriate behavior, and so on. The Web site for the organization is www.NYSCA.org and will provide helpful information. The Center for the Advancement of Responsible Youth Sports (CARYS) is a great site for additional youth sports links and current information about coaching our young athletes (http://hdcs.fullerton.edu/knes/carys/home.htm).

One of the best resources for parents and for parks and recreation professionals is the Center for Sports Parenting at www.sportsparenting.org. Encourage your parents and coaches to get involved with providing positive feedback to our young athletes.

We in the educational system rely on the community to provide another critical learning ground for our children and adolescents about healthy physical activity and sports participation.

-- Dr. Ruth A. Arnold is an Assistant Professor of Physical Education, Springfield College and IISA Level I Certified Instructor. Dr. Arnold has also been a camp counselor and director.

Q: When you audit an aquatics facility, what are the key components to look for that help you decide between renovating the existing facility and building a new facility?

A: An audit of your aquatic facility should provide you with a detailed description of the condition of your current facility. Once these facts are presented, your auditor should be able to present you with some options to assist you in making an informed decision about the life expectancy of your facility in its current state, and what your choices may be relative to renovation and/or expansion.

The key components assisting you with this decision will be the condition of your current facility and its ability to continue to operate effectively.

When our audit was performed, we were told that with minimal repairs ($15,000) we might be able to extend the life of our facility by about five years.

However, due to the age of our facility and its infrastructure problems, we would eventually be faced with the facility exceeding its life expectancy. The auditor provided us with a preliminary design of what we could do if we decided to build a new facility. The cost estimate for this scenario was about $3.5 million.

It is possible that an audit may also provide you the opportunity to renovate your existing facility for half of the cost of a new one. In this scenario, you are typically dealing with some portions of your old facility mixed in with some new elements. This can be a cost savings, especially if your community is operating on a very tight budget.

In our case, it was decided that we could allocate the dollars to build a brand new facility for our residents at no additional cost to the taxpayers.

Another key component to consider is revenue. If you want to increase the revenue you produce from your aquatic facility, you will need to establish your facility as a destination. In a typical flat-water pool, the average stay for an aquatics user is around two hours. In a water park, the typical patron will stay at your facility for 4-6 hours. This increase in time spent at your pool can be translated into increased revenue at your concession stand, additional sales through rentals and an increase in daily admissions.

When marketed accordingly and priced appropriately, your newly transformed facility could be a good money generator. Don't fall short on your features and do your best to provide the latest and most tried and true aquatic play elements. When put together, your facility should wow your residents and satisfy every potential aquatic user in the market.

-- Peter Conces is the Recreation Supervisor for the City of Beachwood, Ohio.

Q: What have you learned about operating and maintaining a sprayground?

A: Spraygrounds are great features for any facility. They require fewer lifeguards and provide the patrons with a safe, fun and interactive space away from your larger facility. Children are occupied during rest hours and patrons are provided with a whole new element not related to moving water.

Although focused mainly on children, we found people of all ages enjoyed our sprayground. Our sprayground was designed to operate inside of our aquatic center. Its filtration system is tied into our tot pool, which is adjacent to it. The convenience of doing this was that it allowed us to operate two filtration systems inside of our aquatic center, instead of three.

The biggest challenge for us was keeping the sprayground free of floating debris introduced into the circulation system. Although our sprayground water was filtered through a sand filter, the pump operated separately by drawing water out of the surge tank. We had leaves occasionally block the small orifices of some of the features, causing the spray features to work sporadically at times.

I would highly recommend that the smallest possible screen filter be introduced into any design considered. Plus, most spraygrounds operate with a computer controller. This controller will synchronize your features to come on and off at different times. Try to learn how to use this controller as soon as possible and don't be afraid to make adjustments. As we kindly referred to our experience, we wanted to see the water dance.

-- Peter Conces

Q: Satisfaction Guarantee… Can it work for your recreation and parks programs?

A: We were confident that our programs and services were second to none and that our staff was recruiting the most qualified leaders to run our recreation programs.

Therefore, as a customer relations and marketing tool we implemented a Satisfaction Guarantee Policy that informed our clients of our commitment to providing quality programs.

The policy states if you are unhappy with any of our services, we want to know! We will suggest another program for you to try, or if you prefer, we will give you a credit or refund your money. That's our Customer Satisfaction Guarantee to you.

Needless to say, some of our program supervisors were a little reluctant with this policy at first. However, in the six years that we have implemented this policy we have had less than a dozen requests from less-than-satisfied customers.

The policy also sends a positive message to our instructors that we are confident they will provide a quality program, show up on time, interact well with participants, and ensure that participants have a positive experience.

-- Phil Bryan is the Superintendent of Recreation for the City of Rockville, Md.

Q: With all the different types if aerification available, what type is best for relieving compaction?

A: There are many types of aerification equipment and many different types of aerification techniques, from spiking and hollow tine to deep tine and water injection.

While we cannot address all of these methods, I do want to discuss the role of aerification in relieving compaction. In terms of actually relieving compaction there is no doubt that hollow tine is the best because it actually brings soil out of the ground, thereby reducing the bulk density of the soil. I would also suggest the larger diameter the hole and the deeper the hole the more you will relieve compaction.

When you reduce bulk density you actually make it easier for the soil to accept and drain water. You create an area for oxygen and carbon dioxide to exchange and you open a hole into which you can put topdressing materials such as sand.

Having said this, core aerification does not come easy. There are plugs that need to be picked up or broken up in some way. The weather conditions must be conducive to good grass growth. Play on the field should be suspended until the grass "heals" and you must have the time, manpower, equipment and budget to do the job right. That is where some of the other methods come in…

Solid tine and spiking, for example, can be done with relatively little damage to the turf so they can be done during season and when conditions are not "perfect". Unfortunately, they do as good a job as core aerification.

The best case scenario is to have an arsenal of equipment at your disposal -- hollow tine, as well as solid tine and slicing equipment -- so you can choose the right equipment at the right time for your needs.

-- Dale Getz

Q: How can you explain and justify how important parks and recreation is to a community?

A: No matter how supportive and knowledgeable a community may be about the value of parks and recreation, there is always reason to justify their benefit.

What we must realize is the world is changing and we need to change the way in which we view ourselves and how we present this view to the community.

We need to come to think of ourselves as more than just providers of open space and recreation programs but as catalysts for providing opportunities and experiences for people and as facilitators of individual, community, environmental and economic benefits.

As Kathy Spangler of The National Recreation and Parks Association stated, "We need to shift the way we perceive ourselves: it is not what we offer but the value we add to people's lives."

In order to be successful in justifying the importance of parks and recreation, we must qualify and quantify the positive impact they make to the overall quality of life. Doing so may be difficult, but there are many resources available to help you substantiate the value such as The Benefits of Parks and Recreation Resource Guide, NRPA, 1998.

Once you begin to relate what you do in real substantiated outcomes, and communicate that to everyone, you will gain understanding and support from the community.

-- John Powers

Q: How can we, as recreation programmers, evaluate the success or customer satisfaction of a program?

A: There are a number of methods for doing program evaluations, and three groups of people from whom to seek input… the users, the programmers and the corporate partners (if any).

The easiest method is simply to have a post-event debriefing meeting to seek input from the programmers. This will not only help evaluate the success of the program, but help in avoiding problems in future programs. However, this method will give mostly anecdotal versions of the failures or successes.

Secondly, and perhaps more effectively, interviews may be done with the program users during and after the event. This will give a more accurate picture of success or failure.

Thirdly, post-event surveys may be distributed. Surveys are a great way to collect and document input, provided enough users participate, and provided the surveys are well-written.

You can find a sample survey form at www.parksandrecbusiness.com. Click on Forms and scroll down to June 2003 where you'll see a sample survey under Community Build Playground Forms, Lexington Parks and Recreation.

-- Bill Carman is the Deputy Director for Lexington (Ky.) Parks & Recreation.

Q: What is one program that is unique to the City of Gaithersburg that is generally funded by outside sources?

A: Art in Public Places… Public works of art contribute significantly to a community's identity by providing distinctive landmarks and symbols. Public art installations have the unique power of impacting the hearts and minds of a community. They provide a vehicle for such memorable associations like the fountain in the park where your children play, a memorial commemorating an important person or event, the tender moment a child experienced with an endearing bronze bear, and the ultimate symbols of our country's identity such as the Statue of Liberty.

It is the mission of the Art in Public Places Program (AIPP) to foster vitality through the arts in developing and redeveloping areas in the City of Gaithersburg.

The Art in Public Places Program seeks to promote the arts and educate the public. By developing public works of art throughout the city, the Art in Public Places Program works to create a sense of place and pride for the Gaithersburg community.

In the summer of 1997, the Mayor and Council of the City of Gaithersburg created a resolution forming the Art in Public Places Committee, and appointed the first members of this Committee.

The Art in Public Places (AIPP) Committee is charged to study and evaluate plans for art in public places and advise the Mayor and City Council relative to the implementation of such plans. The committee meets monthly at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn with city staff, identifying potential sites for installations of public art and works in conjunction with the site's developer and/or the surrounding community to select the artist and the artwork that is most appropriate for that particular site.

The projects of the Art in Public Places Program are funded by developers as part of the site plan approval process, and at times additional funds are budgeted within the capital improvement pr