ELKTON — With county officials proposing a $3 million investment in Calvert Regional Park to draw more people in, county Department of Parks and Recreation officials hope to leverage that growth to improve life for people already here.

County Parks and Recreation Director Clyde Van Dyke has proposed a year-over-year increase of 46%, or about $612,00, for a total of $1.9 million in his Fiscal Year 2020 budget. That covers operating costs for 13 full-time staff in park operations, four full-time staff in recreation and tourism as well as 60 part-time staff for programs.

Among that increase in operating costs is funding for two new positions, with one position staggered halfway through the fiscal year. There is also $166,000 earmarked for an after-school program with two Cecil County Public elementary schools, not including grant funding.

“Nationwide, we don’t have a problem allocating money to take care of issues after they happen. It’s our philosophy that preventive measures are better taken and worth the investment,” Van Dyke told the council.

The proposed Youth Enrichment Academy (YEA) looks to start on the first week of school and would run 170 school days. On Wednesdays, the program would run from 2:15 to 5:30 p.m., while all other days would see it start at 3:45 p.m. Its structure includes recreation time, homework time as well as other activities, and instructors ideally would be current and retired teachers and high school and college students.

The YEA would be geared toward two CCPS schools with a large number of impoverished families, and Van Dyke said they would work closely with CCPS to recommend students. The program caps out at 50 students at two schools.

County officials are considering three schools for the program: Bainbridge, Cecil Manor and Thompson Estates elementary schools. Bus transportation will also be provided.

“We want to start with third to fifth graders, because we understand in order to change the county’s current status with things plaguing us, we have to change the culture,” Van Dyke said. “To change our culture, we have to start young.”

The YEA mirrors a similar program Van Dyke ran when he ran Elkton’s Parks and Recreation Department in the early 2000s. He’s had several former students come back as adults and tell him how it impacted their lives.

Parks and Recreation is also proposed to receive a combined $5.5 million in the upcoming Capital Improvement Program, with most heading toward the third phase of Calvert Regional Park. Another $1.5 million was budgeted for a turf field at North East High School, with increased costs for added infrastructure; $940,000 to dredge Elk Creek and $125,000 to plan Brantwood Park improvements.

Much of the budget hearing focused on Calvert Regional Park’s expansion, which will include 23 acres of land, including 6 acres of the Rising Sun High School campus.

When the third phase is done, Calvert will get additional playing fields and 2,500 parking spots, and patrons will be able to travel from the high school to a field without going on Route 272. More parking is especially appealing to neighbors in that area, because tournament attendees often park on the shoulder of Route 272, and it may stop the need to bus people from Calvert Elementary School.

Calvert is already scheduled for 13 tournaments this year, an uptick from last year, but Van Dyke noted that it’s now facing stiff competition. The Delaware Turf Sports Complex in Kent County, Del., has 12 fields and has lights for nighttime play and another large complex has opened up in Philadelphia.

“The tournament industry is a very fickle industry. What makes us attractive is our geographical location between Philadelphia and Baltimore airports, we’re right on I-95 and our current prices are the mean of the market,” Van Dyke said. “Those prices make us very attractive.”

The council was interested in the revenue generated by the park that the county already spent $7.3 million on. Council President Bob Meffley bluntly asked Van Dyke whether Calvert would generate enough money to break even.

Van Dyke said it would not.

However, he also pointed out that the park was never designed to bring in money, but to improve quality of life. He noted several of the local businesses, like Dollar General and gas stations, also reap the economic benefits of the tournament’s visitors.

“I would say everyone’s in favor of it because it’s a quality-of-life issue,” Meffley countered. “But what happens to the quality of life, as most of our quality goes to Newark (Del.) to get something to eat?”

There’s not enough hotels and restaurants in the Calvert region to meet the needs of the large tournaments the county is trying to bring in, Van Dyke explained. Existing hotels here, in Harford County and Newark are full, and after tournaments are done, families get what they need from local stores and head back to the hotel, he said.

In the past three fiscal years, Calvert Regional Park brought in $156,000 to the general fund. Fiscal Year 2019 is projected to bring in another $184,000.

“To me it’s a community park first, and a revenue generator second,” Van Dyke said. “I’m sure if you went out there today, the fields, the trails and the basketball courts are full.”

Looking to the NEHS turf field, the third to be installed at the county’s five high schools, Van Dyke said the increased cost comes with stormwater improvements. The high school boys and girls soccer teams played only two or three games there combined last year due to its wet conditions. At one point, the fire company pumped 3,500 gallons off of the field.

High school turf field priority includes such factors like proximity of Calvert Regional Park and the fewest renovations. Rising Sun High School is next in line, followed by Elkton High School in FY 2021 and 2022.

Councilman Bill Coutz asked about the maintenance cost of turf fields. Van Dyke explained after aerating grass fields six times a year, seeding it and fertilizing it, the cost quickly outpaces the benefit of a turf field to drag and refurbish it once in a while.

“I know dollars and cents is what everyone’s worried about at the end of the day,” Van Dyke said. “But when you go to Harford and their athletes are on turf, it’s not a level playing field for our athletes. And the more turf you have, the more attractive you are to tournament organizers.”

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