Stow officials confident SKiP project will take major step Thursday

Krista S. Kano
Akron Beacon Journal
The 27-year-old SKiP playground was torn down in 2018, and since then, city officials have been talking about replacing it. City officials now believe kids could be playing on a new SKiP park by the end of 2021.

After over three months of discussions, Stow officials are confident that City Council will pass a resolution in support of building a new SKiP Park at their next meeting, which in turn will reinvigorate Mayor John Pribonic's fundraising efforts.

"I think we have it all worked out and I foresee this getting done on Thursday [March 11]," said Councilman Steve Hailer, who has been spearheading council efforts to move forward on the project. "Everyone at the council table and the administration wants this park and we want to get this done." 

Hailer believes that Stow children will be playing on a new park by the end of 2021.

The city has been talking about building a new SKiP since the original 11,000-square-foot wooden playground was torn down in 2018. The former playground, located on Darrow Road at the City Complex, was built in 1991 by volunteers.

In 2019, Pribonic began soliciting donations from local businesses and received a $160,000 grant from First Energy. However, due to the pandemic, park plans were put on hold as the city's priorities shifted and business revenues were in flux.

"We didn't feel it was the right time to press the issue [of donating] in 2020," said Nick Wren, Pribonic's chief of staff and director of public service.

"We wanted to be respectful to those businesses," Pribonic added. "They provide excellent tax base for us and we felt we were wearing out our welcome. I didn't want to put any business in a position of embarrassment."

Hailer, who had set a goal to get the park rebuilt by the end of his term, reintroduced the matter in summer 2020.

In November, Wren told council the administration would need a resolution of support before Pribonic would begin soliciting donations again. 

A resolution of support is not a legally required measure, but Wren said, "It's important the business owners that we're dealing with  [...] know that the mayor and the legislative body are on the same page and to know that if they donate funds, they'll see a return on their investment in the form of a park. It's important to us to give that comfort to business owners." 

In January and February, the administration continued to ask for a resolution of support, while council continued to request more information regarding the project's budget, scope and schedule.

"Council controls the checkbook by statute, and if the mayor can get this whole thing funded, that's wonderful," Hailer said. "But I'd rather know on paper what we think the costs will be because then if something comes up, we're prepared and we know the affects any additional costs would have on the budget."

For the Feb. 25 meeting of the public improvements committee, Wren submitted one version of the resolution of support while Council vice president Jeremy McIntire submitted his own amended version.

Both versions offer council's support, but McIntire's also required Pribonic to provide a donation update and a project timeline to council by March 31 and stated that the project must not exceed $500,000. 

McIntire, who chairs the finance committee, explained that he included the March 31 deadline because that is the last day of the 2021 budget process, and that they would like to know if city funds would be required to finish the project. He pulled the $500,000 price tag from the administration's Dec. 3 presentation to council. 

He noted that he is in favor of the project, but is not fully committed to providing city funds to finish the park when other city parks are in need of repair. 

"I think it sends a bad message if we're spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on something new when we have maintenance and capital needs on our current parks," he said.

The administration was made aware of McIntire's amendments 10 minutes prior to the meeting, Wren said, and so declined to provide a prepared presentation on the park project. 

"I gave you the most benign version, and I received a new version written by Mr. McIntire that tells the mayor what we 'shall' do. It's well outside of the legislative function. The administration needs to meet about how we'll move forward on our side," Wren said. 

McIntire responded that he provided his version to the law department for review, which had since made changes to soften the language, and that council understood that any schedule would be tentative and subject to the state of the economy and the industry.

Wren requested more time to review the new resolution, but said that the administration would still present the project to the parks and recreation board as planned, and said that delaying the resolution would not impede the process.

The Parks and Recreation Board is scheduled to meet next on March 8. 

The committee ultimately tabled the resolution on Feb. 25, and the following day McIntire and Wren met.

"I let him know that it was not meant to be contentious," McIntire said Wednesday. "I tried to write my own legislation because it's easier for me to get my point across, and then I submitted it to the law department so they could tailor it to legal terms. I'm now working with [Wren] to work through those things that appeared to be contentious at the last meeting."

Also on Wednesday, Pribonic reported that council and the administration have since "worked past that. Coming up to the [council] meeting on March 11, we plan to get this tidied up and moving forward [...] I would look at this as a hiccup, perhaps a misunderstanding."

McIntire, who was the only council member to submit amendments, said that he supports the new resolution which has been provided to the administration. 

Hailer added that because Stow's government has conversations on the floor rather than behind closed doors, miscommunications become part of the public record.

"We're really not that far away, and I talked to the mayor and I think we'll be just fine by Thursday. It's been hanging out there for almost five years and it's time to get this done," he said. 

While Pribonic has been in contact with businesses that previously offered donations, he does not plan on reaching out to any new businesses until the resolution has passed. 

Plans for the new SKiP included, at one point, an amphitheater and splash pad, but currently, the city is looking at a pod-style ADA-compliant playground with areas for different age groups. 

"We want this to be a destination park that draws people from all over," Pribonic said. "By making this a destination, it'll also help local businesses. Hopefully they'll stop at a restaurant or get an ice cream or stop over at a shopping plaza. This means more than just a playground for children. It means additional revenue sources for those businesses that reside in our community." 

Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, or on Twitter @KristaKanoABJ.