Answering a call to help improve the city parks system, hundreds of Lawrence residents are lending a hand by taking a park under their wing.
In February, the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department sent out invitations to more than 150 local organizations to help care for a park or public area as part of its new "Adopt-A-Park" program.
The groups were asked to volunteer to pick up litter in one of the city's 33 parks, or numerous public areas, such as city buildings and parking lots.
The response has been tremendous, said Fred DeVictor, department director.
"WE'VE GOT about 40 groups signed, sealed and ready to go," said DeVictor. "I'm delighted we have that much interest in voluntering."
Groups participating include Kansas University's Phi Delta Theta fraternity, Brownie Troop No. 691 and the Corporate Volunteer Council of Douglas County.
City crews should benefit from the volunteer help, he said.
"It's very possible they might see something we don't," he said. "If they see something wrong, like a broken swing or something, we want them to tell us."
The goals of the program are cleaner public areas and increased pride in the parks system, DeVictor said.
The groups will not replace regular maintenance of the areas. "This will just complement the work we already do," DeVictor said.
The Adopt-A-Park program is just one of the creative ways parks officials have devised to improve parks services and facilities while keeping the budget belts tightened.
"It's tough to try to meet the public's recreation needs when tax dollars are constant," DeVictor said. "We aren't going to see a budget increase, so it's important to be creative."
THE CREATIVE solutions have paid off so far, DeVictor said.
"I think we've had a good year, even during some uncertain economic times," said DeVictor. "I think we're in pretty good shape. I think folks in Lawrence expect a lot. There are some areas that need work, and there is a need for more facilites than ever before."
"But, generally, I'm comfortable with what we're doing. We have a good balance of meeting the public's need and taking care of what we have."
As a result of creative money management and some good fortune, the city acquired three park areas in 1991 with little cost to the department or taxpayers.
In October, the city bought Mary's Lake and 18 acres of surrounding forest land on the south border of the 17-acre Lawrence Prairie Park at 27th and Harper. The cost was about $45,000.
To buy the land, the city used $21,500 left over from the sale of 18 lots on the northwest side of Harper. "It was our idea to use some non-tax dollars to provide the land," DeVictor said.
The city bought the land for the lots in 1985 with the idea of selling the lots later to help purchase more park land, DeVictor said. The sale of the lots generated about $75,000, DeVictor said.
ABOUT $45,000 of that money was spent in January 1991 on a 30-acre plot of land featuring both forested area and open fields on the east border of Lawrence Prairie Park.
The remaining $23,500 for the purchase of the Mary's Lake area was generated from the sale of bonds for the park.
Combined, the three park areas make up a 71-acre park, the second largest in Lawrence. DeVictor said he wants to keep the park, including the lake area, undeveloped.
"We're going to try to keep it as it is," he said. "That's the value of a park."
DeVictor said the city also doesn't have immediate plans for the other property it acquired last year, a 10.4-acre plot west of Kasold Drive at about 28th Street.
The property was donated in spring 1991 by Abdalla Y. Mobaidin, a private developer.
"It's a flood plain area that's adjacent to some city-owned land that has been projected for park site in the future," DeVictor said.
"EVENTUALLY it will make up at least a 15-acre park.''
Despite these major acquisitions, most of the work done in the department is rooted in maintaining and improving current facilities and services.
"You've got to take care of what you have," DeVictor said.
The parks department added 18 state-of-the-art horseshoe-pitching courts in Broken Arrow Park.
The modernized pitching lanes will be the site of the horseshoe competition in the Sunflower State games, which will be held in Lawrence this summer.
"This couldn't have happened if we hadn't had these facilities," said DeVictor. "We have some of the nicest in the state.
The city also added a 6,357-foot, 18-hole frisbee golf course to Centennial Park, and two sand volleyball courts in Deerfield Park for use in city volleyball league play.
Work also began last year to modernize the Community Building, 115 W. 11th, and bring it up to city codes.
THE BUILDING is used by almost 11,000 people every month for sports events, community classes, equipment rental and other functions.
Five phases are planned for renovation which are projected to cost more than $700,000. The first phase is nearing completion, DeVictor said.
The first phase called for renovation of the gymnasium roof, installation of energy efficient windows, upgrading the electrical system, and improvements to safety features necessary to meet building and safety codes.
The cost for the first phase was about $150,000, paid for with general obligation bonds.
DeVictor said he expected the second phase to begin in the summer, pending Lawrence City Commission approval for issuance of $250,000 in bonds.
The second phase calls for upgrading the heating, air-conditioning and plumbing systems, plus completion of the window installation.
Adding the energy efficent windows means significant savings in operation costs for the department, DeVictor said.
"A lot of those we replaced were the original, single-pane windows," he said. "You can imagine how much we lost in energy costs."
THE DEPARTMENT also hopes to dip into funds set aside by the city for bicycle and pedestrian safety projects to improve facilities.
In February, DeVictor requested $28,500 from the city's 1992 Pedestrian/Bicycle Improvement Project fund to remove deteriorated asphalt paths in the eastern half of South Park and replace them with concrete.
The project received high marks from the Traffic Safety Commission. Lawrence city commissioners will consider the TSC's recommendation when they set the budget for the program later in the year.
The department hopes to use undeveloped city land along 19th Street between Moodie Road and Haskell Avenue to build a new maintenece facility.
The facility will be headquarters for parks and recreation maintenance teams including electricians, masonry workers, sign makers, and litter picker-uppers and house much of their equipment.
Maintenance workers will vacate their current headquarters at Second and Illinois streets and move into the 19th Street structure once it's completed. In turn, city utility workers will move into the Illinois building.
"THIS PROJECT will benefit both the parks and utilities departments, because we need more space, and they need room for expansion," DeVictor said. Work on the facility should begin this summer.
Other plans for renovation of parks and recreation facilties include the paving of access roads into Holcom Park and Sports Complex and repair of its parking lot.
DeVictor said he anticipates hikes in the coming year in user fees for the department's various programs, including its city sports leagues.
"Money has to come from somewhere, so we have to make some of it up in user fees," DeVictor said.
Maintaining the quality of department facilities and services is the ultimate goal, he said.
"We need to make sure we meet people's needs for recreation facilities," he said. "Quality is expected."
Maintaining high standards is even more impartant in a tight economy, he said.
"When you get into tough economic times, we've found that people rely on their local services and recreation opportunities that much more," DeVictor said.