If you feel like the City of Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation department has been trying to get your input a lot lately, you’re right. What a great position to be in, citizens of Thurston County, to have so many exciting things to weigh in on. By now, you may have heard about the Aquatic Center Feasibility Study and have probably taken the survey, (excellent work!), but, I’m here to tell you that you have yet another opportunity to make your outside voice heard: An update on the usage of the future Yelm Highway Community Park.

Last spring, Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation was approached by the Olympia School District with a request to consider a sale or property trade that would include co-locating a future secondary school (10+ years out) at the future Yelm Highway Community Park site. Over the last few months staff from both entities have explored the idea, but first, a little background…

History

In 2018, the City of Olympia purchased an 83-acre property at 3323 Yelm Highway from the Zahn family. In an Urban Growth Area, the site, on Yelm Highway near Wiggins Road, had been leased by the Zahn family to Spooner Berry Farms for the last several decades as a U-Pick site and Berry Stand location. Approximately 60% of the property currently consists of fields used for strawberry production, and much of the southern half of the property is wooded with a wetland.

The City of Olympia purchased the 83 acre property at 3323 Yelm Hwy from the Zahn family in 2018 Photo courtesy: City of Olympia

In the summer of 2019, the city launched a Community Park Master Plan process to develop a design concept for the future park space. A primary component of the proposed future park plan was focused on rectangular field space, and for a myriad of reasons.

Olympia currently does not have any dedicated rectangular fields in their park system. Dedicated rectangular fields have been a long-standing need in our community, where lit, synthetic soccer fields provide a safe, year-round play surface for youth and adult soccer players and beyond. The many sports that also use rectangular fields for play, like football, lacrosse, rugby and ultimate frisbee would also benefit.

“Soccer is a fast-growing sport in our area,” says Laura Keehan, parks planner for the City of Olympia, “and growth has been limited in recent years due to the lack of available field space for games and practices.”

The City of Olympia purchased land that for decades has been the site of Spooner Berry Farms strawberry fields. Shown is the layout of the property that will be the future Yelm Highway Community Park and possibly a secondary school. Photo courtesy: City of Olympia

Early last year, after the initial studies of site analysis, opportunities, and constraints, the City presented a few schematic design alternatives to the community and surveyed their likes and dislikes. (The findings of these surveys can be found here and here).  But by March, the pandemic had put the project on hold, at the same time the Olympia School District had put forth an idea…

Potential Partnership

Keehan shares that last March the Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation department was approached by the Olympia School District with a request to consider a sale or property trade that would include co-locating a future secondary school at the future Yelm Highway Park site. “Over the last few months staff from both entities have explored the idea further,” she says, “and have information to share about the opportunities and impacts of partnership at this location.”

In a joint public meeting, held over Zoom, Olympia Parks, Arts, and Recreation, and the Olympia School District described the concept and answered questions from the community. For those who missed it, a recorded version of the meeting is available along with an online public survey at engage.olympia.wa.gov.

The survey is open November 17, 2020 to December 6, 2020, and all citizen feedback will be compiled and shared with the Olympia City Council and Olympia School Board early in 2021 for their consideration.

This concept draft shows a side-by-side comparison of what the Yelm Highway Community Park could look like with or without co-locating a secondary school. Photo courtesy: City of Olympia

It is very important to note that no decisions have been made about whether to co-locate a secondary school on the park site. The public meeting and survey are meant to present the idea to the community and hear their feedback. The City Council will make a decision about how to move forward in early 2021. Once a decision has been made about co-location, the Master Plan process will move forward and complete planning the vision for the site.

There are many opportunities and impacts when considering how, and if, this property could or should be shared, as many of the facilities that each entity possesses overlap in how they serve the community.

Athletic fields, a running track, tennis courts, a community gym, and parking lots are all opportunities for partnership and make for efficient use of fields, impervious surfaces and taxpayer dollars when the cost of creating these infrastructures is shared. The negative impacts like the potential for increased traffic and noise also need to be considered, too.

So much to think about. (Thank goodness for that survey!) And one thing’s for sure, the strengthening of the school district and park’s department relationship could benefit our community for many years to come.

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