Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

TOP STORY >> Push is on to renovate North Hills golf course

Leader staff writer

Even though the park study that Sherwood has paid for is about three months away from completion, the parks and recreation committee decided Monday that the 106-acre North Hills Country Club and defunct golf course need to be revamped into a working golf course.

The committee made the decision to renovate the property back into an 18-hole municipal golf course without holding any public hearings or debate on the issue.

The committee, according to Alder-man Ken Rankin, decided that the property would be an 18-hole golf course with work to begin immediately.

“Why are we having a park study done if we are not going to wait for it or look at it?” questioned Mayor Virginia Hillman.

The park study, which the mayor signed the letter of intent for on April 20, 2008 and the council approved on April 28, calls for spending about $90,000 for a complete survey, inventory, needs analysis and short- and long-range plans for the city’s parks, including those in the Gravel Ridge area.

The city bought the North Hills property, which it condemned, for about $5.5 million, and has already invested about $200,000 to renovate the clubhouse for rentals and meetings. The city also recently contracted Casco, a local contractor, to demolish and fill the concrete swimming pool.

Three feasibility studies performed while the city was attempting to purchase the property in 2007 and 2008 estimated that it would cost $1.3 million or more to bring the golf course back up to par.

Mizan Rahman with ETC Engineers, the company commissioned to do the park study, told the council that he could not make any recommendations at without further investigation and financial figures.

He said one of the biggest cost questions was whether or not the sprinkler-irrigation system worked.

Rahman said the golf course system is about 30 years old and the infrastructure may have run its life. “We won’t know until we investigate,” he said.

Sonny Janssen, director of the Sherwood Parks and Recreation Department, said the city may need to purchase or repair pumps and check the well in order to verify the condition of the golf course’s water system.

“We may turn it on and everything works or nothing may happen, but we don’t have any money budgeted in case we have repairs or replace something or to even see if its working,” Janssen said.

Aldermen Rankin and Charlie Harmon, who are both on the parks and recreation committee, wanted a resolution to spend the minimal amount to get the golf course opened, and then backed off and instead voted for a resolution to have the parks department check the sprinkler system. No money restrictions were placed on the resolution.

Harmon, who pushed hard for the golf course decision, with intermittent cheers from the audience, said, “The property is an expense item now. The only feasible use is for it to financially carry itself is by being an 18-hole golf course with 20,000 to 25,000 rounds of golf a year being played. That will cover the cost of the note.

“As good financial stewards, we have to make it an 18-hole golf course,” Harmon said.

He said the committee looked at two other possibilities: doing nothing with the property or turning it into a nine-hole golf course and using the remaining land for other recreational activities like a small water park.

“We just have to plug the greens, fill in some sand traps, get the irrigation running and do some work on the cart paths,” Harmon said, adding, “It needs to be started already.”

Rahman said as part of the master park study, his company was also looking at the cost of the other renovation possibilities. “But at this point I have difficulty recommending anything without investigating what needs to be done and the financial cost,” he said.

“Can’t we at least get a driving range opened?” Alderman Becki Vassar asked, “to get some income started.”

Alderman Butch Davis said there needs to be public input before the council makes a decision.

Rahman said the contract for the park study includes public input and said they were close to that point.

Vassar wanted Rahman to survey not only Sherwood residents, but those outside of the city. “Outside people are having a fit to play on North Hills as a golf course. It’s not fair to just poll Sherwood residents,” she said.

Rahman said his contract obligation was to the people of Sherwood. “They are the ones that have a financial risk in the decision. It would be cost prohibitive to do what you want,” Rahman said.

The council gave Rahman up to 45 days to come up with cost figures for the golf course and told him to be ready to present the information at a workshop.

In other council business:

Police chief Kel Nicholson presented awards to the police officer, dispatcher and civilian employee of the year. The awards, voted on by members of the police department, went to Officer Danny Kelley, cashier supervisor Nicole Weatherly and dispatcher Allison Rady.

The chief also presented awards to officers Ryan Baker and Bryan Kinder for their efforts in saving an elderly man who was found unconscious, without a pulse and not breathing.

The officers’ quick actions saved the man’s life, according to the chief.

The council approved a resolution authorizing the study of a possible merger between Sherwood and North Little Rock’s wastewater departments. The University of Arkansas at Little Rock will conduct the study at no cost to either city.

Mayor Hillman said the study is non-binding but felt it deserved to be looked at in light of the success of the North Little Rock and Little Rock water department merger into Central Arkansas Water.

Aldermen voted to condemn the structure at 8800 Landers Road as a public nuisance, meaning the owners have 30 days to bring the building up to code or the city can tear it down.

The council approved the selection of Don Hughes to re-place Clytice Koehler on the Civil Service Commission.