Park director praises park volunteers

by Sue Serdinak

March 27 RJRD meeting

The board of the Richfield Joint Recreation District is working to define its relationships among the park board, the park director and the volunteer groups, Friends of Richfield Heritage Preserve and Oviatt House. The co-champion concept has been considered, but the board has not formalized that relationship.

The Friends are unofficially considered co-champions of Kirby Mill and the Oviatt House group is considered co-champion of that building. An individual or group can apply to become a “champion,’’ that is to take responsibility for completing a project or renovating a structure. 

Board Vice President Mike Selig suggested that the memorandum of understanding between the board and the Friends could give full authority to the Friends only over the work of the Kirby Mill. He suggested their ongoing work on invasive species and latrine and trash cleanup could be under the authority of the park director.

During public participation, resident Karen Smik said the Friends have managed those efforts since the park re-opened, and it was confusing why they would now pay someone to manage the work.

The Friends raised thousands of dollars to repair and restore the wheel at Kirby Mill. They have also spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of volunteer hours repairing the Amity House and several other structures in the park.

The Oviatt House group raised over $100,000 to restore the 1836 Oviatt House and volunteers have donated hundreds of hours of work.

Both non-profits have received countless donations and held numerous fundraising events to pay for their projects.

The Friends have also spent thousands of dollars and many hours to restore the Amity House so that it can be used for classes and rented for overnight stays. The group has not been considered a co-champion of that building.

They have also done restoration work on the North and Garfield houses, using funds they raised through donations and events.

Simultaneously, the RJRD has spent money from its tax funds and used volunteer help to remodel the Lodge to serve as a party venue.

The board is hoping the two nonprofit groups will hold fundraising events, separate from the two co-champion projects, and turn the profits over to the park district for park operating expenses.

Board member Holly Price said this is problematic, because the district does not have a clear definition of “co-champion” yet. Board members Mike Lyons and Anita Gantner said this needs to be reviewed further.

Dean Bowman and other volunteers of the Friends worked for several weeks to remove old tile flooring in the Amity house. They sanded, stained and finished the wooden floors that had been covered for decades. Photo submitted.

When the public was given an opportunity to speak, Corey Ringle, president of Friends of Richfield Heritage Preserve, said the Friends spent $2,150 on the North House, $2,000 repairing the roof and windows of the Garfield House and about $4,000 on the Amity House to date. She estimated the total cost for Amity will be about $15,000.

All labor and most of the money for materials were donated. The Friends are not considered co-champions of any of the houses.

Ringle noted that their fundraising events provided the money for this work, and that the Friends have other expenses, including insurance, as required by the park.

With no resolution, the co-champion designation will be discussed at a future meeting.

Amity House accessibility
Park Director John Piepsny said he hopes Amity House can be rented for overnight stays associated with weddings held at the Lodge.

“[It would be] an extension of the Lodge. Many people want to rent it overnight. … It would be ideal for small groups, such as bridal showers,” he said, adding that it could be used for classroom projects at summer camp. Piepsny said that Shari Green, the event coordinator, believes she will be able to rent Amity for $1,000 a night.

Piepsny and Ringle, an architect, agreed that the building must be restored to only a class “C” accessibility level. Ringle described this designation as the first floor being handicap accessible, including a ramp entrance and lowered light switches. Second floor access is not required.

Doug Wisnieski and other volunteers of the Friends group worked around the clock to get the wiring and lights on at the Amity house. Photo by Park Director John Piepsny.

Price suggested that the lighting and plumbing fixtures in the first-floor bathroom should fully comply with handicap accessibility.

“The Friends are doing a great job of bringing this building up to code,” said Piepsny.

At the end of the meeting, he showed a before and after slide presentation of the Amity House, including a functioning kitchen with sanded and painted cabinet doors, old tiles removed from floors and the hardwood sanded and stained, walls scraped and painted, plumbing and electrical panels updated, areas tested for asbestos and the stairwell opened up.

“This has all happened in less than 90 days, all by the Friends,” he said. “They seemed to work 24-7.”

Board member Mark Robeson asked if a business study was ever done on renting Amity.

Operating levy
Gantner reported that the .5-mill operating levy for the park expires in 2024. She suggested that a levy be on the November ballot.

She said the current levy, paid by Richfield Village and Richfield Township property owners, raises $188,000 annually. Gantner said a renewal levy would raise the same amount of dollars but would have a reduced millage because property values have increased since 2014. She said a replacement levy of .5 mills would apply to current property values and generate about $219,000 annually.

Piepsny said operating funds are too low for a park this size and with several structures. He compared the money to many other area parks and added that a large part of the $188,000 is paid in salaries and leaves little for other operating expenses.

Lyons said the board needs an analysis of the dollars spent and the money raised from the Lodge rental and fundraisers.

Gantner said the type and amount of the levy must be determined at the April meeting to qualify for the November ballot. She said the median home price in Richfield has increased to $430,000, and property with that value would pay about $65 annually for a replacement levy.

A 1.25-mill bond issue was passed in 2014 to raise  $7.1 million for the park. Several projects have been completed with the bond money, including dams being repaired, a sewage treatment plant rebuilt and water installed. According to Gantner, $138,335 remains in the fund.

“I think a replacement levy seems to be a reasonable way to go … in that you would account for price increases,” said Selig.

Price and Lyons, newest to the board, asked for more information.

“We need to have a clear understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish … and the revenues from the Lodge,” said Price.

“What is missing is an actual calculation of what we want to generate. …  I would tend to favor a replacement, even if our operation costs have not increased, but our costs have,” said Lyons.  “There is a perception that the structures are a financial burden, but I would be interested to know how much we have actually spent on them.”

Piepsny said the park district has spent very little on stabilizing the structures, estimating that only $14,000 was spent on all repairs and maintenance last year.

He added that if the Friends had been allowed to get into the buildings sooner and mothball them, less work would be required to restore and re-open them.

Water line
The board debated whether to pay for a new water line to run from the Lodge to Amity House or re-drill a well at Chagrin Cabin and repair a severed water line to Amity House. It was decided that it was important to get water to Amity as quickly as possible so the building can be rented. Piepsny said the goal is to have Amity restoration complete by May 6.

Gary LaGuardia, Friends volunteer who has handled water issues in the park, said the Lodge well would be able to serve the Amity House.  The board accepted a quote from Plumb Nation for $17,500 for the new water line.

LaGuardia said he feels it is unrealistic to count on so much work from volunteers in perpetuity.  He recommended getting more structures open so they can generate income.

Dollar topics
The board agreed to absorb the 3% fee for credit card payments for Lodge rental and program registration, rather than pass the fees along to customers.

The board also approved selling a brush hog that was seldom used to Mifflin Township for $9,500.

Trail improvements
Piepsny reported that the Ohio Operating Engineers have removed broken asphalt on the hill near Garfield Hall to make it less of a tripping hazard and steep grade. Gravel will eventually be added.  He said the trail around the boathouse has also been reworked.

Gantner ended the meeting by saying difficult issues arose while she was on vacation in February and in the future, any concerns by volunteers or park personnel should be brought to the attention of the park director. ∞