Editorial: Building a city attraction Op-Ed · May 10, 2013
During the discussions of a new West Branch Public Library, an idea surfaced to build up the area around the football field with a variety of facilities.
We think the idea deserves some serious consideration, both by West Branch Community Schools and the City of West Branch.
Realtor, farmer and volunteer Ken Fawcett mentioned it months ago at a meeting to discuss potential sites for the library. Fawcett envisioned the school removing its bus barn and maintenance sheds, and the city purchasing properties on the north side of the football field. The idea is to make room for an expanded library, as well as possibly a community or even a recreation center.
At a recent library planning meeting, City Administrator Matt Muckler noted that city research shows a recreation center would need six to eight acres of land, making the property wedged between Oliphant, Orange and Downey streets too small.
But that does not mean the entire idea is without merit.
Right now, the football field is surrounded by Hoover Elementary (and, on the same campus, just a bit further west, West Branch Middle School) to the west, WBPL and a small cemetery to the east, and the bus barn and maintenance/storage buildings to the north, as well as homes.
The football community has talked about building permanent restrooms and locker rooms to enhance the Little Rose Bowl. Right now, the Bears change at the high school and ride the bus a mile to get to the game. The visiting team gathers in a shed when they are not playing.
The library, of course, wants to expand. The current building has been kept in good shape and is only about 20 years old. Some residents have stated that it makes more sense to expand than to abandon a usable building. That is a good argument for building an addition.
When school gets out, many middle school pupils, and even some of the older elementary pupils, cut across the football field or walk around it to get to the library. Some stay all afternoon, others hang out until various sports practices begin.
The football field itself gets used year-round, both by organized and impromptu activities, from football games to gym class, from sledding to games of catch. Lots of young adults hang out in the bleachers just to chat or goof around.
With the schools surrounded by residential housing, their playgrounds and fields are frequented by children or entire families. And, of course, the elementary school’s gymnasium are often used by middle school teams because there is no gym at WBMS, so many children are in and out of the elementary school as well.
Simply put, the area around the football field is a busy place, and children are the primary reason why. It is not a city park, but it is a place that attracts children for a variety of reasons, so it seems like a good idea to find a way to build upon what has already become a destination for our younger generation.
Just like the downtown is a hub of mostly adult activity, the football field area is a hub of mostly children’s activity. And, with that hub a block away from the busiest streets in the city, it makes it a safe place as well.
So we would suggest the city and school take a look at the area surrounding the football field and start talking — together — about how they can really make the best use of that space, to make a deliberate overall plan to turn it into a city attraction.
The school district is right now in the midst of strategic planning. We would encourage the school to consider a long-term plan that moves the maintenance/storage sheds and the bus barn to another location, freeing up that space.
The city recently completed its comprehensive plan, but that plan will need to be updated before the school could feasibly move its buildings. Until then, we would encourage the city to consider setting aside funding to start purchasing lots as they go up for sale.
What could fill up that space? Certainly an expanded city library. Perhaps a community center, too. More parking is also in demand.
We think that if the school and city put their heads together, the area around the football field, which is already well-used, could be turned into another attraction for the community, especially its children.