Burnside mayor walks council through park project funding

Mar. 7—While a day in Cole Park might be a fun time for adults and kids alike, Burnside officials are finding it somewhat more stressful to fund improvements to that experience.

Burnside Mayor Robert Lawson updated the Burnside City Council at Monday's March meeting on the status of efforts to renovate the playground at that community's urban park — specifically, the process of finding the money to do so.

"We're diligently looking for grants for Cole Park," said Lawson.

A key focus is improving the playground at the park. Lawson said that the city's tourism board recently received a bid from Little Tikes of about $300,000 to overhaul the playground and get new equipment, which is over 20 years old and due for replacement. This was considered an improvement over a previous bid from Play Mart, which was around $400,000, and also because it did not propose using recycled materials for the equipment.

"Play Mart, everything they use is recycled — their 2x4s, 2x6s, all of it," Lawson told the Commonwealth Journal following the meeting. He noted that the rest of the council didn't like the idea of the recycled materials, with a concern that it might break down earlier than newer alternatives.

"When we started talking about this, Play Mart was the only bid we had," said Lawson — at least the only viable one. He said another company had put forth a bid of around $600,000, "but when they told us that number, we didn't even go (any) further."

Little Tikes has a program that would allow for matching funds for the initial equipment of around $79,000, but that still left a considerable amount for the city to pay for, noted Lawson at the meeting.

Lawson said that Burnside has applied to the Lake Cumberland Area Development District (ADD) office for a Land and Water Conservation Fund grant, though unfortunately there's "a lot of red tape" around grants of that type, noted the mayor.

"They told us that we'd have to put the electricity underground in the park, and you all know what that would cost? All of it," said Lawson. "... I don't understand why the whole park has to be in there. I would think (it would just be) where we're doing the work like the playground. I've also turned the tennis courts in (for) this grant, where we turn the tennis court around, make one full-size tennis court and three pickleball courts, with new fencing, put a new surface down, new netting."

All of that came to about a half a million dollar price tag, noted Lawson, including the playground equipment. It's a matching grant that would require Burnside to pay about $250,000.

Lawson would meet with the ADD office later in the week and said "they're still looking into that, but they still think that that Land and Water grant, all the electricity will have to be underground."

He did mention that state legislation from last year could help Burnside fund that project. Kentucky House Bill 9 from 2023 related to appropriations for economic relief in Kentucky counties. Lawson said that the Lake Cumberland ADD was working to get Pulaski County included in that, and feels like that could potentially take care of what Burnside would need to pay for their half of the matching grant, as well as the cost of the underground electrical installation.

"We wouldn't be out anything," said Lawson.

Another avenue is additional appropriations money on the federal level. Lawson had spoken to a representative from U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers' office and Burnside staff members, including former city clerk Jerrica Flynn who is currently aiding the city in a new role as a consultant, wrote an application for that funding, requesting an amount of $465,650.

The money would go to prioritize replacement of aging playground equipment to ensure compliance with safety guidelines and American with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, as well as makeover the tennis court and put in fencing along the park borders.

"Last year we got turned down (for appropriations money), but this year we've done a whole lot more work on it," said Lawson at the meeting. "The wording put in on that by Jerrica I think will go a long way."

Another area of the park that could use a little fixing up is the old amphitheater, not to be confused with the current stage at the U.S. 27-facing entrance to the park. The former venue down by the lower ball field had wood planks for seats and could host smaller functions. Lawson said the city's hopes are to excavate that area and put in a brand-new amphitheater and stage with bathrooms, lighting and a storage area, and seating for about 250 people.

This wouldn't replace the Don Franklin Family of Dealerships Performance Stage, which serves bands that have performed in the city's recent events at Cole Park, but would rather serve smaller events like local plays or more intimate concerts.

Lawson didn't have a cost estimate on that potential project as of yet.

"We're trying to promote drama, and Burnside Elementary (School) is willing to write a letter of support because they do have a drama club at the school ... they would be using that," Lawson told the Commonwealth Journal.

The council also approved a bid for mowing city properties from Johnson Lawn Maintenance (an exact figure for the bid wasn't available, as it contained different amounts for different areas at various rates) and recognized Burnside Fire Chief James Martin for commendations by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) for completing sponsored courses by the National Fire Academy.