BELLEAIR BLUFFS — A first look at plans for the total changeout and makeover of the playground at City Park were presented at the Aug. 16 city commission meeting.
“This will be a brand-new playground,” said Commissioner Taylour Shimkus, who worked on the redesign and selection of new equipment with city staff.
Shimkus said the team, which included City Administrator Debra Sullivan and Public Works Supervisor Russ Schmader, spent eight months working on the playground’s redesign. They went to other cities’ playgrounds for ideas, got feedback from children and adults, and looked at many different designs before deciding on the final equipment package and placement.
“There will be a lot of climbing. There’s something every kind of child will love,” Shimkus said. “We added new swings that are very popular, where a parent can swing with their child.” She added that there will be exercise equipment for adults, which had been lacking.
“We’re excited to have something new,” Shimkus said. “The playground equipment is over 20 years old and falling apart.”
The playground equipment will be paid for with a $50,000 grant from the state of Florida plus a $100,000 gift in memory of local businessman David Berolzheimer. The city was told last year they were being awarded the grant from the Florida Recreational Development Assistance Program. Then the gift honoring Berolzheimer, longtime owner of the Bluffs Plaza shopping center who died in 2019, increased the total funding to $150,000. The donation came from Berolzheimer’s companion Bonnie Starr.
Shimkus said the adult fitness area would include a rowing machine, air walker, chest/lat combo machine, fitness bike and flex stepper.
Commissioner Suzy Sofer said she was excited about the playground design, especially because “this is the first time we’ve incorporated adults into the plans. So instead of parents sitting on a bench while the children play, they can now participate and interact with their kids,” Sofer said.
Shimkus urged the commission to approve the playground proposal, so the city could lock in the pricing and stay within the $150,000 budget. It was approved unanimously.
Staff additions debated
A resolution to add descriptions of two new staff positions — an executive assistant and public works assistant — to the list of jobs in the city resulted in a long discussion on their need and value in improving the operation of city government.
Commissioner Steve McNally wanted to know why the new positions are needed.
Sullivan said the workload of the city administration staff members, which includes herself, the city clerk and assistant city clerk, has increased significantly. She cited the COVID crisis, and applying for various grants and other funding such as hurricane damage reimbursements as major causes.
“We just need help. We are doing a lot,” Sullivan said. “But we’re bringing in a lot of money with the grants.”
Public Works supervisor Schmader said COVID-related concerns were causing him and his two staff members to spend “20 hours a week just cleaning.”
Sullivan said Schmader and his public works staff are doing a lot of more work in-house rather than contracting it out, as had been done in the past. That greatly reduces the costs, but it means more work and takes more time, she said.
“Russ (Schmader) is out there in the field with hammer and shovel, working, while his administrative duties are being put behind,” Sullivan said.
The Finance Committee, composed of residents, approved the two new positions.
Resident Wanda Rusinowski objected to adding more city staff members, especially to administration.
“We’ve gone from two people at one time to five or six, and now to eight. How many more employees are we going to get?” Rusinowski said.
Mayor Chris Arbutine said city administrators are working “extremely hard,” pointing out that there is a lot more to do now than there was 20 years ago, and the administration staff remains unchanged at three. Arbutine also said Schmader and his two staff members “are doing boots on the ground improvements that are saving us hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
The resolution to add the two positions was approved 4-to-1, with McNally opposed. Approving the budget funding the positions is scheduled for next month.
City market agreement approved
The commission approved a three-year agreement with Karen Rodowicz, owner of JK Flowers, to operate the new city market events.
The market will be held monthly on Saturdays beginning in September, on Sunset Drive in front of City Hall. This year’s dates are Sept. 11, Oct. 9, Nov. 13 and Dec. 11.
Sullivan said there is space for 14 vendor tents, 7 on each side of the street. The street will be closed for the event.
“These are good, quality vendors with a wide variety of items for sale,” Rodowicz said. She mentioned some of the items being sold include jewelry, doggie bakery goods, and tie-dyed T-shirts.