The Three-Block Project envisions a new splash park and playground, an indoor aquatic park and remodeling of the present middle school building into apartments or condos.

Splash park, indoor pool could remake area

For The Jefferson Herald

Greene County’s Vision 2020 steering committee in late 2017 tabbed the school improvement project as its number one priority.

With that success under its belt, what’s next on the group’s menu?

Housing is always near the top of the list, and that hasn’t changed. But a few weeks ago, the group agreed with consultant Zack Mannheimer that the “Three-Block Project” deserves the focus in the next couple of years.

The Three-Block Project — the brainchild of Greene County Development Corp. president and steering committee member Sid Jones — is designed to co-locate four of Vision 2020’s priorities into a single area near downtown Jefferson and reduce their estimated cost. That would be accomplished by using as much existing infrastructure and current building inventory as possible.

The components of the joint project are improvement of the Greene County Early Learning Center, a new splash park and playground, an indoor aquatic park and remodeling of the present middle school building into residential rental units and/or condos.

Location of the proposed combined project is the three blocks just southwest of the downtown area, bounded on the north by Lincoln Way and stretching three streets south to Madison Street, and one block wide between Highway 4 (Elm Street) and Vine Street. (The Early Learning Center would lie just outside the right-hand edge of the drawing.)

Harrison Street between the community center and the current middle school building would be closed for that one block to provide additional green space and possible added parking.

Purpose of the improvements is to meet the interests of young families — children with parents under the age of 40 — currently living in the county and others who could be attracted to come here through the new amenities.

The steering committee agreed that locating the four components in a single compact area, using existing facilities as a base, is a superior concept to previous discussions that suggested some of the attractions could be built new along U.S. Highway 30 at the north edge of town or scattered elsewhere throughout the city.

Estimates by Mannheimer for the three-block improvement, excluding the repurposing of the middle school, fall in the $4-$5 million range.

Funding would be sought from state, federal and foundation grants; city and county sources; and local fundraising.

Mannheimer, through his employer, McClure Engineering, has a continuing commitment to Vision 2020 to help find funding grants and loans.

“While there are other important projects to consider,” Jones said, “there may not be a more important improvement than the Three-Block Project for attracting and retaining young families.”

Taking the four components of the Three-Block Project one at a time:

Greene County Early Learning Center

The Early Learning Center board has discussed with GCDC the need for a larger and updated facility to handle the sizable number of youngsters who attend or are on the waiting list. The current location of the Early Learning Center a block south of the middle school, board members said, is the ideal spot.

Whether that means remodeling the current facility, which previously served as the school district’s building for pre-kindergarten through second grade students, or building a new facility at that location is still to be decided.

The cost difference between the two options is not a sizable one, according to estimates.

The closing of Harrison Street between the middle school building and the rec center would allow Early Learning Center youngsters to walk to use the entire three blocks without crossing a street.

Splash park and playground

The new or renovated Early Learning Center at its current location would be able to take advantage of a new splash park and playground immediately to the north, on the current vehicle parking area now used by attendees at middle school gymnasium events.

The splash park and playground would also be available for use by all community and county residents and visitors as well.

The splash park would include a variety of water sprays and splash areas for toddlers to easily access in the warmer months, requiring only the supervision of their parents.

The Vision 2020 plan sees the park and playground as a city-owned facility.

Middle school building residential rental units/condos

As a function of Vision 2020’s goal of new and improved housing options for the community, the Three-Block Project envisions a private developer converting the present middle school into apartment and/or condominium units. It is anticipated that the current middle school gym would be removed to make room for more green space.

Some amount of financial incentive may be needed for a developer to make the housing project a reality, Mannheimer said.

Indoor aquatic park

When the Greene County Community Center between Lincoln Way and Harrison Street was constructed, its design allowed for an eventual indoor pool on the east side of the building.

The Three-Block Project modifies that concept into an indoor aquatic park, with a couple of lanes for a lap pool and the rest of the space as a water park.

Like the splash park, the indoor aquatic park is envisioned as a city-owned facility. It would include an enhanced concession stand to help offset operating costs.

Not included in the Vision 2020 plan is the current outdoor pool in Jefferson, but consideration should also be given to its upgrade, Jones said. Its wading pool could be remodeled to include a zero-entry side as well, and waterslides could be added, he proposed.

Jones sees the indoor aquatic park as the first component of the joint project, along with improvements to the existing outdoor pool. The two-block portion of the joint project south of Harrison Street would probably have to wait until the spring of 2021 at the earliest, he said.

Jones has bounced the Three-Block Project off city officials, other community leaders, younger members of the Vision 2020 steering committee and several young families, all of whom think the suggested improvements would be greatly attractive to millennials, he said.

“In the end,” he said, “the decision is really up to the community, and the steering committee’s young families.”

Residents under 40 years of age are the group to push the plan, he said.

That’s the same group that organized the successful school bond issue in April and provided much of the planning and muscle for the recent RAGBRAI overnight visit to Jefferson.

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