CLEARWATER — Workers broke ground on the renovation of Crest Lake Park on Feb. 21, the morning after the City Council approved a $5.788 million construction contract with Wharton-Smith Inc., the company that will oversee the work.

The park’s rebirth, which includes new volleyball courts, lakeside boardwalks, docks, and other improvements, will also replace more than 100 dying and dead trees the city removed in the face of resident opposition.

“We removed a lot of trees in the northern part of the park, and you heard from a lot of citizens at that time,” Art Kader, the city’s interim Parks and Recreation director, told the council at a Feb. 18 work session, prior to the Feb. 20 formal authorization by the council. In fact, it was Kader who fielded questions about the trees at the Aug. 28 neighborhood meeting where tempers boiled over.

He reached out to those residents in his comments before the council Feb. 18. “We are replacing all those trees throughout the park in an arboretum fashion; we’re up to 80 different species we’re going to put in the park,” he said.

Other improvements include wider sidewalks around the lake and through the park; new lighting; irrigation; landscaping and grass; four new play areas, including a spray pad; restrooms, and two picnic shelters.

Workers will also landscape the shoreline of the lake in the center of Crest Lake Park with boardwalks and decks for observing the birds and other wildlife. The blueprints call for a lighted fountain that will shoot water 80 feet into the air, as well as rain gardens to filter storm water, a method that improves the water quality.

The nine-month contract with Wharton-Smith calls for the initial closure of the entire park, with the park’s southern half — including the popular dog park — to be finished and open within three to four months, Kader said.

The Florida Veterans Memorial Plaza at Crest Lake Park — where the names of local residents who fought in America’s wars are listed and honored on Veterans Day, July 4, and other patriotic moments — will remain open throughout the construction work.

Clearwater Mayor George N. Cretekos has held the park’s reconstruction close to his heart, vowing to start the project by the time he leaves office. His last council meeting is March 19; the new mayor will be sworn in on April 2.

“Crest Lake Park has been a Clearwater landmark for generations,” Cretekos said at the groundbreaking. “The improvements to the park will serve not only the Skycrest neighborhood, but also the entire community.”

The $5.788 million for the Crest Lake Park overhaul comes from money Florida and Gulf Coast communities received from BP after the Deepwater Horizon exploded and released 4.9 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Harvard Jolly to design police District 3 center

The Clearwater Police Department will hire Harvard Jolly Architecture Inc. of St. Petersburg to design its District 3 headquarters building.

The City Council approved $966,230 for the design and engineering of a proposed operations center in the Countryside area at its Feb. 21 meeting. The $11 million project will replace the aging building at 2851 McMullen-Booth Rd. with a modern structure designed to withstand Category 5 hurricanes, Police Chief Dan Slaughter told the council. The building will house offices, training classrooms, and other operational facilities.

The department’s adjacent shooting range, which has been a focus of sound complaints from residents, is not moving into the new building, Slaughter told councilmembers.

“It’s not financially feasible to completely enclose the range,” he said. “We do believe there are sound mitigation strategies that will make a difference.”

Those strategies include use sound-baffling materials and other designs to reduce noise from target practice that Harvard Jolly Architecture comes up with.

City Manager Bill Horne described the plan to council members.

“The whole idea is to get the max benefit we can with regard to sound mitigation from the design of the structure,” Horne said. “I will advise you after we’ve done that, if we still experience noise, sound issues, we would come back and outline what additional measures might be needed.”

According to Horne, bullets from police rifles “exceed the sound barrier, that’s what generates noise challenges that the police are facing. They really have to use those weapons, because offenders are using those weapons, so our police have to be prepared.”

Residents won’t have to wait for the new building to be built to get relief, however.

Deputy Police Chief Eric Gandy has researched how other Tampa-area police agencies have reduced sound at their ranges to look at solutions in the interim, Slaughter said.

“We’ve sought to add some additional equipment, some suppressors onto some of the rifles, including the short-barreled rifles,” he told the council. “Those have not yet arrived, and there are things we are doing along the way. We need patience from the neighborhood as we continue to work through the system to mitigate noise.”

Airpark looks to reduce noise

Residents north of Clearwater Airpark could soon get relief from some of the noise allegedly produced by a helicopter flight school and other air traffic, the city’s airport and marina director told the Beacon.

“We hosted a neighbor at our airpark and we have been to the neighborhood with noise-measuring devices,” said Clearwater Marine and Aviation Director Ed Chesney.

He said the airpark is looking at ways to direct traffic in ways that naturally abate noise. Tampa Bay Aviation, which offers flight training, aerial sightseeing tours, and private charters out of the airpark, is considering ways its schedule could reduce noise, Chesney said.

Frank and Lori Scalzo and several other residents of Sunset Lake Manor neighborhood took their complaints to the Feb. 5 Airpark Advisory Board meeting.

According to Scalzo, the number of flights has increased since he bought his house 23 years ago. He blames helicopters from the airpark’s flight school.

“It used to be an occasional Cessna — pilots who were hobbyists or businesspeople,” said Frank Scalzo. “Now it's become non-stop traffic that sometimes shakes the things in my house, literally. One flying lesson can last an hour and there are days when I hear and see the same group of planes and helicopters taking off every two minutes, for hours.”

Chesney said he hears the residents.

“We are looking into ways to fix noise issues,” he said.