Mayor Eric Niemann and the Philomath Park Advisory Board set the wheels in motion Thursday evening to begin the process of trying to obtain a state grant to help bring a new park to the North 16th Street vicinity.
The board unanimously approved a motion at its monthly meeting to categorize a North 16th Street neighborhood park as a Priority 1 project. In the Park Master Plan, last updated in February 2016, a park for that area had been listed as a Priority 2 project.
Niemann came to the board with a certain level of urgency based on the timing involved with applying this year for an Oregon Heritage grant, made available through the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department “for the construction or restoration of veterans and war memorials.”
The grant application deadline is coming up Feb. 13.
“According to the grant documents, they have about $150,000 to give out,” said Niemann, who had communicated with Oregon Heritage about the awarding of past grants. “Last year, the max award they gave out was $74,000 to Happy Valley and the other three communities about $30,000 to $40,000.”
Past funded projects include repairs to the Doughboy monument in Astoria, a women’s veteran monument in Springfield, a new monument in Malin and additions to a large memorial in Washington County.
“Pretty much that’s been the typical cycle — one community comes in with the big pole in the tent, if you will, and the other ones are smaller,” Niemann said. “Almost every year, you can see where there’s a $70,000 project and then three other smaller ones.”
The possibility of a park in that section of town became a reality when the late Beverly M. Durham, who died in August 2018, donated in her will to the city one-eighth of an acre of land with a house sitting on it. The property is located on the corner of North 16th and College streets.
The gift did come with conditions, including that it serves as a memorial to the son she lost to the Vietnam War in 1968.
Niemann has spent a great deal of time researching Cochran’s life while also getting to know his surviving family members. He put together a moving program at this past November’s Veterans Day program at the middle school and even helped replace the Gold Star necklace that Durham lost before her death, presenting it to Cochran’s sister while standing over his grave in December at Willamette National Cemetery.
Before getting into the details of any park design proposal to apply for a grant, Niemann shared with the park board his information on Cochran’s background.
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A veterans memorial in the new park appears that it will pay tribute to not only Cochran but at least nine other known Philomath-area residents killed in action during wartime. Such memorials would be finalized after receiving the blessing of those families.
Niemann shared with the board members and audience a representation of what the park could look like — one of the requirements on the grant application.
In his version, an existing house and garage are not torn down and used as an American Legion meeting place and museum as well as office and storage space.
“One of the contingencies of being awarded this grant is having a connection with a veterans organization,” Niemann said.
Elwin Callahan, post commander of Marys River Post 100, sent the mayor a letter that confirmed the American Legion’s endorsement of the project. The Legion, which currently gathers each month in the old Independent Order of Odd Fellows’ building in downtown Philomath, could benefit with a permanent home.
In response to a question from the park board’s Caleb Unema, Niemann said money out of the city’s park System Development Charges fund could be used toward its construction. This past year, the city used $200,000 in SDC funds to contribute to the local tennis courts project.
Niemann said the park’s SDC funds can’t be used on replacements or repairs in existing parks, which happen to be among the various projects listed as Priority 1. Like the tennis courts, the memorial park would be a new project and SDCs, according to the Park Master Plan, “can only be used for projects that expand the capacity of the system.”
In Niemann’s representation of the park, besides the structures remaining in place, other property features include a U.S., Oregon and POW/MIA flag stand, a memorial to Cochran, an octagon-shaped gazebo, picnic table areas with barbecue pits, children’s swing sets and signage on both the College and North 16th sides. The property’s apple trees toward the back and street trees on North 16th are retained in the design.
Niemann said any park design would not be finalized and moved forward until opportunities for public input are completed. In the design he proposed, the price tag would run an estimated $195,000, which includes an extensive renovation on the house.
“One of the requirements for the state grant is you need to have some sort of concept diagram,” Niemann said.
After the application deadline, award notifications from the state are scheduled to occur on May 1. The grant period — the time in which to spend the money — would run from June 1, 2020, through May 31, 2022.
Park Advisory Board members passed the motion to make the park a Priority 1 project on a 4-0 vote (Dale Collins, Carol Leach, Mal Miner and Unema voting yes; Izzie Elliott, Lindy Young, Spencer Irwin absent).
The board did receive some immediate public input from local resident Michael Sprouse, who shared his vision of what the memorial park could look like with a more simple and less-expensive approach.