New park planned for Taft lot after 12 years

This former bus parking area at 1545 SE 50th St. in Lincoln City was recently acquired for development into a park. (Photos by Mathew Brock) This open field behind the fence of the lot at 1545 SE 50th St. is targeted for development of a new park in Lincoln City. The property was recently purchased from the Lincoln County School District. (Courtesy of Lincoln City Parks and Recreation)

LINCOLN CITY — A new developed park will be coming to the Taft area of Lincoln City following the city’s recent purchase of a 6.6-acre lot at 1545 SE 50th St. from the Lincoln County School District for $421,900.  

The city has been looking to acquire the property since 2008, but delayed efforts by the school district to decontaminate a small segment of the land used as a fuel area for buses stalled the sale until six months ago.

The sale comes at an opportune time for the Lincoln City Parks & Recreation Department, which outlined the construction of a new park in the southern half of the city as one of its biggest goals in recent years.

“There was a recent Parks & Recreation system plan written in 2016, and one of the top priorities was to build a park in the Taft area to serve the southern part of Lincoln City,” Lincoln City Parks & Recreation Director Jeanne Sprague said. “We also need more developed parks in Lincoln City that have ball fields, sports fields, multi-use courts, that sort of thing.”

Sprague said the closest park of this scope is currently Kirtsis, which has three ball fields and a skatepark.

The lot was once the site of Taft Elementary School, but the building was demolished in 2013, leaving a maintenance shop, chain link fencing and a school bus area intact, which were still used by the school district until recently, Sprague said.

“We passed a bond in 2011 and added on to the elementary school, which was the old high school way back when,” said Richard Belloni, facilities director for the Lincoln County School District. “We were then able to tear that old building down.”

Belloni said the city has been maintaining a small soccer field on the lot for years and was happy to hear the city’s plans to turn it into a park so it could continue serving the local community as an outdoor space. Belloni added that with the local school’s strong soccer program, it’s always good to have extra fields to play on.

The 12-year delay was primarily due to part of lot being used as a fueling area, which caused contamination in the ground that needed to be cleaned up. The school district was working to get the area decontaminated, but the project fell by the wayside several times over the last 12 years for various reasons.

“Long before my time, Lincoln County School District and Lincoln County had a place where they fueled buses and had several tanks in there they quit using,” Belloni said. “The district cleaned the property up partially and removed the tanks, but they never got out all the contaminated soil out.”

Belloni said the district has been working with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to get the space cleaned up, but the project fell by the wayside in 2011, and Belloni didn’t even know there was an issue until a DEQ agent working on another project asked when the district intended to finish the cleanup.

Eventually, Cascade Environmental was hired to help, but the project saw several DEQ agents move in and out of the position, further stalling the project.

“It took forever, and it’s a slow process working with the DEQ anyway,” Belloni said. “We had to drill wells and monitor the soil so they could see if it was getting cleaned up or not. We probably did 10 or 20 test holes to get water samples.”

Belloni said the district eventually received a “no further action” notice from the DEQ for the space, though that does not mean the space is completely decontaminated. It does require the contaminated space to be used with certain conditions, such as disallowing the drilling of a well or installation of a basement in the contaminated area. Lincoln City had to accept those conditions as part of the purchase, but Belloni said it likely wouldn’t affect intended development plans much.

The city has already conducted an environmental assessment survey of the land and confirmed it would be a suitable, safe place to build a park. Sprague said the city will continue doing surveys throughout the process to help shape the park to accommodate the public’s ideas.

“First we need to go through a public process where we have open houses with the community to get input on what they want in our park,” Sprague said. “We take the public’s ideas and work with an architect to put together a conceptual plan.”

Sprague noted, however, that there are currently no open houses scheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was unable to give an accurate timeframe on when they might be scheduled.

Sprague said the community has already given some ideas for how to best utilize the land over the past 12 years. Past features pitched by the community included constructing a sports field, a covered multi-use sports court and installing playgrounds and restrooms. 

The lot is also already adjacent to a public parking lot and near Taft Elementary and Taft 7-12 schools, making it an ideal location for such a project, Sprague said.

The scope of the project will ultimately be determined by the amount of funding the department can secure from the city.

The money received from the sale by the school district counts as “one-time” funds according to Belloni, which may be invested in new facilities at the Holly Farm property owned by the district north of Lincoln City. Belloni noted those plans could easily change, however, depending on where the district’s focus ends up.

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