By MIKE WILLIAMS
Pulaski Town Manager Darlene Burcham on Tuesday provided Town Council with an update on a number of initiatives town staff have underway as it relates to use of federal ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds.
“Some of these things will be visible to you all over the next several months,” Burcham told council.
Those initiatives include new playground equipment in the town’s parks, a mountain bike park, a skate park and more.
ARPA funds are federal fiscal recovery funds related to COVID recovery. The town will receive one round of funding this year and another next year. Burcham told council in July the town would receive $4.5 million in this first year. All funds must be spent by the end of 2024.
Burcham said the town will soon have on I-81 signage both along the north and south bound lanes that will advise people of the existence of Historic Downtown Pulaski.
“Many people enjoy going to historic downtowns,” she said. “We think that’s another way to bring people into our community on a first-time basis to see what we have.
She noted there is an expense to erecting the signs, but no town dollars will be used.
“We expect to see those in the next several months and hopefully we’ll see people coming to our community for the first time. We’re really excited about the possibility there,” Burcham said.
Next, she told council the ramps and other features for the town’s new skate park on First Street N.E. have been ordered and she expects those to be in this spring.
“They will be installed by the company we are actually purchasing those from, which is the company that did the design for us,” she noted.
She told council that as soon as those ramps are installed the town will be removing the “very old and derelict ones that are out at Macgill Park.
“In conjunction with that we have ordered fencing around the basketball court and lighting that we think is critical. Just today we have engaged an individual to do the markings on the basketball court and have ordered the basketball goals,” she told council.
“I’m learning about pickle ball, which I had not heard of until recently,” Burcham continued, noting the town has obtained an estimate for resurfacing and marking the tennis court at the 6 Street Park for pickle ball. “That should be happening very shortly,” she said.
“Several months ago, we shared with you some plans for a mountain bike park right off Route 99 near the interstate. We have those final plans and a cost estimate, so we hope to be doing some installation on that,” Burcham said. The park will be located in the area used in recent years for a community garden.
“Council is well aware of the fact that with all these different outdoor activities we are recruiting for an outdoor facilities manager that will be managing and overseeing the installation of a lot of these activities, as well as working on the idea of making Draper Mountain a more active place for bikers, walkers and mountain bikes,” Burcham continued.
She told council that probably the most interesting and likely the thing that will appeal the most to citizens involves the decision to replace all the playground equipment in the town.
Burcham presented a slide show displaying examples of some of the playground projects the town is putting out to bid.
“The first one has already been purchased and will be installed in the next 30 to 45 days and is a replacement of the playground at Gatewood,” she said. “In this instance, the vendor at Gatewood provided $7,500 toward the cost and did the removal of the old equipment.”
She said the newer playground equipment not only has safety features in their construction, but they also require a significant amount of mulching around them as well as a border.
“With all of these we are getting them installed professionally and having those features also placed so mulching and borders are also being done.
“We want to make sure that not only we buy something that’s durable, but we maintain the safety features,” she said.
She noted that some features will be retained at some parks alongside the new features.
“We had a committee that looked at the parks to determine what they thought was in the best interests of that particular part of our community.
“One thing I am interested in promoting is people traveling around the community [to visit other local parks] to enjoy outdoor recreation and not just staying in their own area,” Burcham said.
She also noted another item town staff is looking at for next year with the ARPA money is creating a water feature at Cool Springs.
“Again, we’ll be putting things at different areas. We want people to build community pride and interest and not just have people remain isolated and staying in their own neighborhood.”
She said all the new equipment is very challenging, but safe. “We think they will make a big difference as there is more and more interest – particularly because of the pandemic – in people being in the outdoors and enjoying the outdoors.”
“These are all things that will be coming in the next six months and hopefully will be seen as a major benefit to the community,” Burcham noted.
She continued that the ARPA money is giving the town the opportunity to do some paving in neighborhoods where the roads do not meet state standards, and therefore the town gets no state funding for.
“Those roads are patched a lot, but not necessarily repaved and we are in the process of identifying all of those and we want to do paving of those neighborhood roads over the next year.
“You’re going to be seeing a lot of activity going on throughout the town and we hope the citizens appreciate it. This is another way we are trying to take advantage of the federal moneys that are coming.”
Burcham said a significant amount of the first year’s money is being spent on infrastructure generally.
“A lot of it with our water system. We started the painting of all of our water tanks. The most difficult one we chose to do first and we found that when it was scrubbed it was like a piece of Swiss cheese, so we are actually going to end up replacing the tank.
“These are tanks that have not been painted in 30-plus years.
“So, we have seriously taken this one-time opportunity for the town to really take advantage of these funds and do things we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.
“We are not using the ARPA money at all for our normal day-to-day activities, but really looking at how can we position the town to be the very best in the future with these kinds of investments,” Burcham stated.
Councilman Jamie Radcliffe asked if the park improvements include any lighting at the park beside the historic train station?
“We have not talked about lighting at the particular playgrounds,” Burcham responded. “We are doing some security features at the train station. If you all think lighting is an issue, I’d be happy to look at that. We did think that lighting would be needed at the skate/basketball park.”
Radcliffe said he thought lighting at the park beside the train station was needed.
He also brought up Peak Creek.
“We have to do something with the creek. That creek bed has to be cut back, cut down and cleaned out. I’m sorry about your frogs and all that stuff, but it’s terrible,” Radcliffe stated.
Someone on council spoke up, “what about the flooding?”
Councilman Michael Reis noted it’s “more about the fact it (vegetation) holds back the water so it doesn’t ruin the creek bed, and then we have flooding and this brand-new playground equipment that gets washed away.”
“We can certainly invite representatives of the Peak Creek organization to come and talk with you,” Burcham responded. “Since the concern was expressed some months ago by council, they have taken significant steps to make sure what (vegetation) is there is something that should be preserved and is integral to retaining the creek, as opposed to having some things there that will become overgrown.
“Don’t have to cut it down. If you just go in there and figure out a way to top it and square it. Right now, there’s poison oak and everything else,” Radcliffe responded.
He noted he had been on Friends of Peak Creek, and he knows what there is in the creek, but “there’s got to be an end to this too.”
Burcham recalled that a year or year and a half or so ago there was a study by the Corps of Engineers of Peak Creek.
“That study has made it possible for the town in the future to apply for federal funding for some improvements to Peak Creek. Our two Senators, Kaine and Warner, very recently wrote the head of the agency requesting funding for the town and Peak Creek, and we’ll have to follow up with an application, but it represents a real opportunity for us to get big bucks from the federal government to work on some long-term improvements,” she said.
“Peak Creek is clearly important, not just to the town, but the county. We spoke with county officials just today on that.
“The plate [for town staff] is very full right now with all the different projects we’re tying to get underway right now using this ARPA money in addition to the daily work we’re doing.
“We have some new ideas about housing options for the town that we will be bringing to you all in the future that will also require some resources.
“But I think the timing for this community to really excel is here and we have to take advantage of that. I talk to the staff all the time about the window of opportunity being open and that we need to get as much through that window as possible and as soon as possible so we are ready for whatever comes our way,” Burcham told council.
“Your staff is working exceedingly hard to make all these things happen and you as council have been most supportive of this work. We will continue to do our very best on behalf of you all and the citizens of the town.”
She also noted there are some “very good economic development opportunities” coming the town’s way as well.
“When we are in a position to talk about those, we will certainly share that,” she said.