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Park board debates restroom placement in historic structure, ending swimming fees

September 15, 2011

Visible in the foreground of this early 20th century image is one of the waiting structures turned picnic pavilions used for decades in conjunction with Culver’s train station (visible in the background). Photo/Antiquarian and Historical Society of Culver

Debate arose last week over whether to convert part of the 1880s-era railroad waiting station turned picnic pavilion at the town park into public restrooms, at the monthly meeting of the Culver Parks and Recreation board. Discussion ensued last Wednesday evening after park director Kelly Young outlined hoped-for projects in the coming months and year for the park following finalization of its budget in October or November.
Working with a grant writer, she said, will help indicate what funds might be available for various endeavors, with a priority given to replacing the ageing fishing pier west of the beach, followed by a new storage building for the department's lawn and other equipment, which would likely be built on municipal-owned land near the Culver water tower at Lake Shore Drive and College Avenue.
That new structure would pave the way for reconfiguring the western end of the pavilion, which presently houses the equipment. Audience member Bunny Esposito said during a recent spate of 98-degree weather, she saw a man try to enter the restrooms located in the beach lodge nearer the east end of the park, only to find them closed.
"Will the bathrooms you're talking about (at the west end) be open later? Who will monitor and clean them," asked audience member Pat Chmielewski.
Young said the staff will handle the work in the summer, and Young herself during the season between Labor and Memorial Days. The restroom would close at midnight along with the park itself. Esposito added her children recently refused to use the lodge's restroom facility, as she described it as "filthy." Young responded that the restrooms are cleaned once per day and monitored regularly throughout the day.
"We clean them as we see a mess," Young explained. "I and the staff use this bathroom."
Young said she thought the new restrooms on the west end would be both men's and women's. In response to an audience suggestion that the portable restroom presently located near the parking lot on the park's west end is sufficient, Young said the park receives complaints about the portable facility, and nearby businesses "don't like looking at it there." She said the park pays $95 per month to rent the portable restroom, so replacing it with a permanent facility will save money over time.
She also said complaints come from those who rent the pavilion and must use the portable restroom. In response to an audience query, Young noted the pavilion rents for $58.85 at a time, and is rented consistently on weekends during the four months of summer.
"So that's about $1,000 per year," said audience member Jim Hill. "So we're going to put $30,000 to $40,000 in it (the new restroom facility)?"
Young said she sees the restroom addition as a service to the community.
Audience member Jan Hill emphasized the historical nature of the pavilion structure, one of two used for decades as shelters at the waiting platforms used in conjunction with Culver's railroad station-depot. Rather than being destroyed when retired from use, the early 1880s structures were moved to create picnic shelter pavilions as part of a massive renovation project at the park during the 1930s, one on each end of the park grounds, as they have remained since.
"I wouldn't change the facade of the historical site there," said Esposito. "I had someone visit us...who was awestruck by that pavilion, and was very impressed at its condition. He marveled at the town and went over to the second (pavilion) and was visibly impressed with those two. I think it would be a shame to tamper with them. No bathroom is safe. Without someone constantly there, it doesn't seem reasonable in a public park."
Audience member Jean Rakich offered a different perspective.
"I'm looking at this as someone with infirm knees," she said. "It's a very inconvenient situation to go up and down the steps to the beach lodge restroom. I'm sure Osborn's (Subway and gas station across the street) is not happy with the amount of people who go in there to use their restroom. The one at the drive-in (Original Root Beer Stand) is very, very teeny (and) I feel uncomfortable using 'port-a-potties.'"
Asked about funding for the project, Young said she hoped a matching grant could yield up to the $75,000 budgeted for it, with the park's portion of the funds coming from various revenues.
Board member Patty Stallings, noting she's a retired history teacher, said the pavilion buildings are historical and cherished by the community.
She added concerns over damage to the proposed restrooms, as she and other families living near the park's west end have observed summertime patterns of drinking, sex, and drugs in earlier years in that area. While that phenomenon has changed, she said, there are still problems near the park's west end in the summer, including fighting and drinking.
"There's an element there, I feel, it wouldn't take them long to find that bathroom, and they'll use it for a lot of things I don't think we want them to use it for. I fear they'll damage it and the building."
Asked about income from pier space rental, Young said $110,000 is budgeted annually as income from that source, though actual income has been as much as $114,000. If grant funds for the restroom aren't forthcoming, she said, then the new fishing pier will be the primary concentration.

Free beach entrance?

In other discussion, board member Patty Stallings asked for consideration from the board of the pros and cons of the park no longer charging entrance fees for swimming at the beach.
Young noted those fees brought in around $8,155 this summer, in addition to $5,266 revenue from parking. Besides the $110,000 to $115,000 the park takes in annually in pier slip rentals, the town of Culver also contributes $30,000 in taxpayer funds, and the township $16,000 each year, to the park’s budget.
Audience member Teresa Yuhas suggested visitors to the park would buy more concessions if they didn't have to pay to swim, and added the park will have enough revenue next year in particular, as a loan for the park’s rental piers will be paid off by then.
"Most people in America go from paycheck to paycheck," said Stallings, adding in the Chicago area, residents aren't required to pay to use the beaches.
Yuhas added that the town beach is the only one on the lake which is consistently cleaned and free of zebra mussel shells.
"You can drive around the lake and see people swimming at terrible beaches like the public landing on the east shore," she said.
Stallings noted the parks department is funded partially by tax dollars, and people ask why taxpayers are then charged for swimming.
"At $8,000 (revenue) for a $241,000 (parks) budget, do we want to provide (free swimming) to people?"
Young said a family beach pass is affordable at $45 for township residents for an entire family for the entire summer, with out of township fees at $60. She added she sold $245 worth of passes even as late as August this summer.
Board president Leroy Bean said Culver's fees aren't as high as many surrounding communities' beaches or pools. Addressing the question of those who have already paid taxes having to pay additionally to swim, Bean said, "How many times do you pay taxes on something twice, or even three times? Lots of times. You pay for the public street (through tax dollars), but you can't drive down it without paying for a driver's license and insurance."
"You show me people that really can't afford to get in to swim," added board member Leon Bennett, noting many people spend as much on soft drinks and cell phones as a membership pass would cost, "and we'll make arrangements so they can come. I can't see the need (to cease charging entry fees)."
Fess for children aged 4 to 12 are $2.50 per person, while 13 through adults are $3. There is a $2 fee to park in the park's lot, and fees are charged Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends, Memorial through Labor Day.

New fishing pier

Asked about the new fishing pier project, Bennett said the board is working with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and plans to make the pier handicapped accessible. Utilizing a "floating" pier system, Bennett said other states such as Minnesota are able to leave such piers in the water year-round, as their anchoring allows them to move with the ice and reduces ice-related damage.
The new pier will be all steel and use top-notch treated material for posts and railings. He added the fishing pier had been a VFW project in years past, and since the park is aiming to carry on that tradition, the new structure would be named the VFW pier. The cost will be about $35,000 plus shipping and installation fees. A surrounding fence on shore will block people sneaking into the beach area without paying, he said.
"This project has been a long time in planning," Bennett explained. "(Installation of the 2006) lighthouse provided the concrete work necessary to make it happen."

Tree planting

The board also voted to approve planting of several trees on park land in conjunction with a NIPSCO grant for which Culver's tree commission will apply, to receive around 40 trees to be placed around town, including at the two public school buildings, various churches, and other sites.
Mike Stallings, of the commission, explained NIPSCO is providing the 600-pound trees on a grant basis for planting on the east, south, or west side of buildings to provide shade and cut down on heating and cooling costs in buildings.
In the park, one would be placed on each side of the beach lodge and two on the beach near the entrance gate to provide shade.

Updates, other matters

Young updated the board on various matters, including the official closing of the beach following Labor Day weekend, installation of a memorial bench on the west end of the park between the playground and gazebo, and the park's annual ice cream social at the beginning of August, whose attendance was deterred by rain, though 40 were served, and former park employee Jimmy Banks provided entertainment.
Teresa Yuhas also asked if the board’s monthly meeting time could be changed from its current 7:30 p.m. slot to 7 p.m. She said the board member who asked for the time change "didn't show up (to meetings) for nine months" after it was instituted. Bean said the matter would be discussed by the board.
Yuhas also asked why Young and the board are waiting until after the new year to purchase a computerized system for accounting and handling of park monies.
"Why fix something that's not broken?" asked Bean, to which Yuhas responded that a computerized system would provide more accountability.
Young said every item sold is listed on the paper tape with the cash register, and is accounted for.
"We're using 20th century methods (of accounting)," said Stallings. "(And) not 21st century. I think (computerized accounting) would really help you; it would be easier...it's very efficient for not very much money anymore. It would be something you (Young) could take to the apartment and plug into your own computer. You wouldn't have to be stapling and putting together, and writing down numbers."
Stallings also expressed appreciation for the board's adoption of a digital tape recorder to record its meetings, which will be put into use at next month's meeting, she said.

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