A large stone wall, the remnants of a bank barn, immediately caught Grace Fielder’s eye as she walked through Hargett Farm on a cold March day.
“It really made my mind leap to a lot of design ideas,” said Fielder, president and founder of G.E. Fielder & Associates, a Laurel-based planning and landscape architecture firm. “I said, ‘I’m in.’”
It was to that moment that Fielder credited her decision to respond to the city of Frederick’s request for proposal to study and develop a plan to turn the Butterfly Lane farmland into a regional park. And it was her firm’s expertise and experience that won her plan the selection committee’s recommendation — over responses from other companies — for the contract for the job.
Equipped with a PowerPoint presentation and eight project team members representing various firms and fields of expertise, Fielder outlined Wednesday her team’s vision of how to study and eventually transform the 136 acres of farmland into Westside Regional Park. As requested in the RFP, the proposal includes a 20-step planning process over a six-month period complete with site analysis, community engagement, cost estimates and economic considerations, culminating in a final master plan report submitted for elected officials’ review and approval.
The $246,800 contract for the job requires final approval from the mayor and aldermen. City staff and members of the Board of Aldermen praised the plan Wednesday as a tangible sign of progress on the long-awaited project.
“In my mind, this is the first real step in moving this from the land it is today to ultimately a regional park,” said Zack Kershner, the city’s director of public works.
Alderwoman Kelly Russell also said the proposal was a turning point.
“This is the first time I have felt like there was a real possibility that we could pull something together and create what the vision was,” Russell said.
Amid words of support, several aldermen highlighted the need to keep costs in mind.
Since the city purchased the farm in 2009, the property has remained barren save for a few historic structures from its previous use. In the meantime, the debt service on the $18 million price has been accruing steadily. A park plan was drafted from community feedback in 2014, but inability to fund the $51.3 million cost estimated for its implementation prevented the city from pushing those plans forward.
Alderman Phil Dacey cautioned against letting the expanse of land create a grandiose and unaffordable project.
“We’re going to have to be realistic,” he said. “With 100-plus acres, you can get some pretty expensive ideas.”
Tom Martin, president of a Cambridge, Massachusetts, economic consulting firm known as ConsultEcon, said he would represent the economic interests on the project — the costs to create the park and to maintain it — in all steps of the study and plan. Martin also said he would make more funding opportunities through on-site amenities such as a carousel, or investments from nonprofits and private donors, a priority.
The project itself will also be built and paid for in phases to help offset the impact on annual city budgets, Fielder said.
The $246,800 contract, if approved, will be paid for through funds set aside for the project in the city’s capital improvement program fund. The city put $226,437 in the project’s CIP fund in fiscal 2015. As of the start of fiscal 2016, the fund contained more than $18.85 million.
The aldermen will vote on the recommendation to award the contract to G.E. Fielder & Associates at an upcoming public hearing.