For a while, it appeared like the prospect of Cambridge building a public splash pad had gone as dry as a small creek during the drought season. Despite a still-higher price tag than expected, however, the Cambridge city council has decided to keep at least a trickle of hope for still building one.
During the recent National Night Out event, the city produced a display with some specifics about a possible splash pad and asked attendees to fill answer up to five survey questions on the topic.
Those questions were: 1. Would you prefer one larger splash pad or a few smaller ones in different locations? 2. Which play features do you like best (based on provided images)? 3. Is having a splash pad a high enough priority to spend $660,000? 4. Thoughts on location? 5. Other comments/suggestions?
While community development director Marcia Westover admitted that logistics at National Night Out prevented them from obtaining solid feedback, with most people only answering one of the five questions, the responses were positive enough to plan to try again during Customer Appreciation Day on Sept. 13.
For that event, the board will be adjusted a little to make it easier for people to give feedback. The booth with the display is tentatively set to be located at the vacant lot across Main Street from the movie theatre.
Splash pad specifics
City administrator Lynda Woulfe told the council during a special meeting on Aug. 19 that based on previous research and recommendations, there are a few specifics that will most likely be part of the potential splash pad. The size has been set at 80x50 feet, which is 10 feet shorter and narrower than the original concept brought before the council back in June.
That decrease in size has also caused the cost to be reduced a bit to $660,000, compared to the original estimates of $750,000-$860,000.
However, even at that lower amount, the building of the splash pad would be contingent on finding outside money sources, such as the sale of
The cost also includes the construction of bathrooms, which Woulfe confirmed was mandatory, but those too could be smaller than originally projected.
As a comparison, Woulfe said that some sort of public pool would cost at least $6 million to construct.
Woulfe said that several ideas for a location have been floated around, with the Parks and Recreation Commission leaning toward placing it right to the west of the new library on the north side of Highway 95 between Fern and Dellwood Streets.
“It would have less vandalism; it’s more public to see and plus it would have better parking,” Woulfe said, referencing the primary reasons for the commission’s choice.
“Plus, they liked having the primary and intermediate schools and the library and splash pad all right there,” added mayor Jim Godfrey.
The other top location selection would be in Central Green Park next to the ice rinks and pickleball courts. Other options suggested at National Night Out included Pioneer Park, the Armed Forces Reserve Center and the old Grandview lot west of Fern Street and east of the Rum River.
Council sets preliminary levy at 7% increase
The need for outside funding for a splash pad became very obvious later in the meeting as city finance director Caroline Moe presented the council with the proposed preliminary levy for 2020.
According to state law, all cities must approve a preliminary levy by the end of September. That preliminary levy amount can be – and often is – reduced once the final levy amount is determined in December. However, the final levy cannot be greater than the preliminary levy.
Moe said that as it stands now, the city’s 2020 levy would be an increase of 7% over last year’s levy.
“After paying off the city hall debt, I was a little more optimistic,” Moe said. “I thought we would be in the 3% range. After we got everything back from department heads, we are closer to seven.”
Moe said she came up with a list of recurring expenses that the council could cut in order to bring the increase down. Included in the list was cutting the popular parks programming of concerts, movies and art in the park; cutting the Fourth of July fireworks; along with eliminating cost of living increases for non-union employees.
There were also some one-time cuts that could be made, such as replacing fewer police cars in the next two years, eliminate funding for body cameras for the police department, eliminate replacing the city hall entrance sign, cut seal coating and crack sealing of streets for a year and cut planned playground replacement.
Doing all of these cuts would result in saving $297,100, which would bring the levy down to under a 2% increase; however, Moe cautioned that all of those cuts would result in some sort of negative consequence.
After discussing the merits of setting the preliminary levy at its maximum amount knowing it will get lowered for the final levy versus setting a lower preliminary levy that might not decrease further, the council decided to approve the 7% preliminary levy increase and instruct staff to continue to research ways to reduce it, possibly all the way to no increase, as was done for the 2019 levy.