School district, park district discuss fields and gym use

After months of tension over the state of Vashon’s public fields and gyms, officials from the park district and school district came together Monday night, resolved a few of their differences and pledged to meet soon to continue the discussion.

The so-called Commons Committee — a panel that includes school and park district representatives as well as leaders in the recreational sports community — held its first meeting in several months. It occurred in the wake of concerns that the cash-strapped park district would not be able to uphold its obligations to maintain the agencies’ shared assets.

But at the meeting, Park District Commissioner David Hackett presented a proposed athletic fields maintenance plan, crafted by the park district’s maintenance supervisor, as well as a tentative budget of nearly $250,000 to take care of the fields, schedule use at shared facilities and provide access to facilities after hours.

The goal, he said, is to “come up with sustainable maintenance and usage policies” for Vashon’s heavily used school fields and gyms. “We’re looking for something that will promote the right level of use,” he said.

Park district and school district employees said they’d meet to pore over the plan and tweak it if necessary.

Hackett also said the park district intends to top-dress the sports fields — a maintenance measure that involves applying a fresh layer of sand to the fields. In previous meetings, park district officials have said they didn’t have the money to top-dress the fields, as needed. But Hackett Monday night said “there’s been some miscommunication about that.”

“We need to get the last top-dressing in this year,” he said.

After the meeting, Hackett said he thought the meeting was a “break-through.”

“I think the tension is dissipating,” he added.

Michael Soltman, superintendent of the school district, said he was also encouraged by the tenor of the discussions.

“In the absence of meetings, questions have come up,” he said. “Tonight, it sounded like we’re equally committed to taking care of these assets.”

A motion put forward by Soltman to address how decisions are made about field closures, however, was set aside for a later meeting. Hackett and School Board Member Kathy Jones, who co-chair the Commons Committee, decided that question and others would be addressed as part of a wider discussion over the Commons Agreement — a plan for how the two agencies maintain and oversee the community’s shared recreational assets.

The two agencies have had such a plan in place for 20 years or so. The current one, signed in 2009, expires next year. Jones will organize the next meeting to begin discussions over a new version of the plan — discussions, she said, that would be open to the public.

The shape of the next Commons Agreement is important, Jones said after the meeting. “In some people’s opinion, it’s not working very well,” she said.

But she, too, is hopeful differences can be ironed out. “We’re all reasonable people,” she said.


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