Conceptual designs to help guide development at Elmer Thomas Park were accepted by the City Council last week, but discussions on prioritizing actual projects won’t happen until June.
The designs were among three plans presented by Halff Associates, the design firm designated by the council to craft master plans for recreational areas and amenities controlled by the City of Lawton, including Elmer Thomas Park.
Park proposals are tied to the aquatics master plan Halff also has crafted because a major component in both is a family aquatics center. While the proposal is one of the recommendations to increase active amenities to lure more residents to the park, the aquatics center also is a way to replace aging and deteriorating swimming and wading pools with water features that will be enjoyed by more people.
The 167-acre Elmer Thomas Park is Lawton’s only regional park, meaning it draws users from outside the city. While it is home to biking/walking trails, playgrounds and a spray park, pavilions and a lake, it also contains monument walks, two museums and McMahon Auditorium, while also hosting major community events such as the Armed Forces Day Celebration, Freedom Festival and, Holiday in the Park.
Project Manager James Hazzard said while Halff is proposing new amenities, it also wants to keep the look that makes Elmer Thomas Park what it is.
“It’s a unique park, with rolling terrain,” Hazzard said, explaining the park’s open space mimics the rolling southwest Oklahoma landscape surrounding Lawton.
Residents also want to retain those open spaces. That is one of the consistent things residents “liked” as they participated in surveys to help identify new amenities. Many also insist the park keep a place for the pesky but cute prairie dogs, who, despite their often destructive nature, lure visitors (a prairie dog sanctuary is one of Halff’s proposals).
Residents also are consistent in what they want added. Topping the list: restrooms (there aren’t nearly enough) and more shade (either through trees or shad structures). Walter Smith, representing the skateboard community, said skaters and BMX bikers want something else: priority for a new skate park.
“We hope ours is one of the first (things) that goes ahead,” Smith said.
Conceptual designs that would place an urban landscape-themed skate park in Elmer Thomas Park have existed for more than five years. Discussions with skaters and BMXers during the park visioning process resulted in a proposal to place that skate area in Ramada Park, 10 acres of space considered part of Elmer Thomas Park but located on the east side of Northwest 2nd Street at Northwest Ferris. Conceptual designs include pipes, ramps and other components of a skate park, as well as a pump track that is supported by skaters and bikers.
Halff has suggestions of its own, including one drawing mixed reviews. The proposal would designate Northwest 6th Street as the only street to pass completely through the park, linking to Cache Road and Northwest Ferris Avenue. Northwest 3rd Street would end in the area of Playground in the Park, although a temporary road would be kept to circulate traffic during parades and Holiday in the Park. A street on the west side of the park would end at the back entrance to Central Middle School and Shoemaker Education Center; the road beyond that point would be for maintenance purposes only (it now links to Northwest 6th Street and Cache Road).
Hazzard said Halff also is recommending relocation of the Miracle Field, built on the park’s west side for use by children with limited mobility. Mayor Stan Booker flatly rejected the idea, saying the $1.3 million field was built specifically in that location. Hazzard said Halff’s recommendation is based on the idea the field is under-utilized, because the youth who might use it want to be located near traditional ballfields.
Those discussions are expected to be among the topics the council addresses when it returns the park plan to the council floor in June. City officials haven’t yet identified funding for the projects.
Officials already have indicated one discussion will center on the aquatics complex, to be located near the splash pad. Hazzard said of the estimated $25 million cost for Elmer Thomas Park work, $10 million is associated with the aquatics complex and its infrastructure.