A schematic master plan presented this week shows a revamped and flowing Royal Lane Park, with upgraded baseball and softball facilities, an expanded and revitalized soccer complex and a perimeter road and parking areas that allow an increased number of visitors to be accommodated.
Also included in the proposed design are landscaping and art elements, along with a realigned Ellen Street and new areas for disc golf and the construction of more walking trails.
Withers & Ravenel design engineer Jennifer Wagner presented the plan to City Council Tuesday night, part of a multi-step process in a N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) grant application bid that could bring in up to $500,000 in funding.
“This has been about a nine-month process,” said interim city manager Shawn Purvis. “This is the first final draft, so to speak, that we’re going to present to Council to get feedback as we move forward with trying to get a PARTF grant to revitalize Royal Lane Park.”
Recreation director Jonathan Allen said public sessions, focus groups and Recreation Advisory Board meetings, as well as meetings with the Sampson County Soccer Club — gauging input from coaches, parents and residents of all ages — have been used in soliciting local feedback on Royal Lane Park locally.
Wagner also noted an online survey, which received nearly 300 respondents.
“At this point we are at the schematic master plan, which we are presenting to you for you to see where we are,” she said. “It’s not for approval or adoption at this point, it’s just informational.”
More than 80 percent of survey respondents said they visit Royal Lane on a regular basis. Of the needs, upgrading restrooms, resizing and reorganizing the ball fields, and upgrading other facilities, notably playgrounds, parking, picnic areas, the walking track and soccer fields, were the most mentioned.
It has been 30 to 40 years since any significant renovations to the park, which engineers and Allen have called a 79-acre canvas that is open to many possibilities.
“It’s a very popular park, a very well-used park,” said Wagner. “It’s pretty much a clean slate for doing facilities on, which is perfect. And it makes sense, because there are so many baseball and soccer fields.”
Wagner noted the popularity of Bellamy Center among older adults, as well as the under-used amenities, such as the little-known amphitheater, that are in need of upgrades. Playground and picnic areas, as well as parking, also need attention. Many of the ball fields are also not regulation sizes.
“By consolidating many of the programs, that will increase efficiencies by allowing various parking and various facilities to be together,” Wagner said. “At this point, it’s just in need of some improvements. It is used for numerous athletic teams and sports. There is a desire, from talking with the city, for it to be used for more tournaments in the future.”
Seven design guiding principles were developed that addressed, among other subjects, the need for more synergy among facilities; better aesthetics; additional defined green space and play areas; and a traffic circulation pattern that improves safety and promotes spacial needs and easier access.
“One way in and one way out is not the most efficient way to run a park,” Wagner said. “If you do want to do a big tournament, you’re going to want more of traffic circulation.”
Additional guiding principles included bringing a defined park trail system that provides connections to future greenway trails and signature elements that will enhance the user experience and create an identity for the park. The design must be such that it can be phased in due to the budget impacts of the renovation, Wagner said.
“It is going to be a large plan with a fairly sizable budget, so phasing is going to be critical,” Wagner said.
Wagner said the existing park has facilities that are placed in a “scatter-shot way” across the 80 acres. Three concept plans were devised and presented to the public earlier this year. From that feedback, Withers & Ravenel came to the schematic design.
“We had a public meeting where we showed all of those concepts, and what came out of it was that most people really liked Concept B,” said Wagner. “That was the one that had the roundabout and the perimeter road, and it had a signature playground feature in the middle and wrapped the baseball with parking and had a wagon-wheel (design) for the baseball fields.”
The schematic plans changed slightly, including that Ellen Street is proposed to stay where Concept B had it removed. However, Ellen Street will be realigned.
“One of the reasons we were so focused on removing Ellen Street or not removing it, was that concern about the bypass for N.C. 24 coming in. We really didn’t want it to create this cut-through for the park. That was sort of the fear, Wagner said. ” It would also separate the park. You would have a front park and a back park, and we really didn’t want that to happen. We felt that by realigning it, that was a good compromise.”
Pierce Street is expected to get a traffic light under the N.C. 24 project, so both Royal Lane and Pierce Street could be main roads in and out of the park, she said.
A wagon-wheel baseball field design, with four 225-foot baseball fields located close to each other, would be at the front of the park, with upgraded tennis courts adjacent to them. There would be large parking areas around both. Pierce Street would extend into a roundabout, with an art design at its focal point. Pierce would continue to the Bellamy Center, which would have an accompanying older adult recreation area, including horseshoes and shuffleboard.
There would be a large parking area next to the Bellamy Center for both the center and a revamped soccer complex.
Under the schematic design, there would be five regulation 200 foot by 360 foot soccer fields by reconfiguring the existing site, with an additional smaller multi-use field in that area. The soccer center would be moved and centered among the fields, where there will also be a family picnic plaza.
“We are showing the soccer building being relocated,” said Wagner. “(Allen) has met with the Soccer Club and they are amenable to moving that, because it would allow for more soccer fields and allow the site to be organized more efficiently.”
The existing football multi-purpose field, with the track surrounding it, would stay intact.
Across from the Bellamy Center would be too larger baseball/softball fields, at 300 feet. There would be more parking in between those fields and a perimeter road, which would extend around the ball fields and the soccer complex and back around to Royal Lane, where basketball courts, the pool and additional play and picnic areas will be located along with more parking.
A large area of green space beyond the perimeter road would provide for an approximate 2-mile walking trail loop, as well as a large area for disc golf in close proximity to the existing amphitheater.
“We talked to some folks at the public meeting who were really excited about that idea,” Wagner said. “They said they had to drive all the way to Kinston to do disc golf, so they were excited about the possibility of having that in their own backyard.”
Wagner said the plan must still be refined and hashed out in some areas as park users and others continue to give feedback. A cost estimate and phasing plan for the project must also be developed.
“We will be coming back to get City Council approval of the final master plan,” Wagner said. “Once we have that, we will begin will the PARTF grant application, which is due in January, and will be a critical element of getting funding for at least a portion of the project’s phase one.”
The schematic plan will be available for viewing at the Clinton Recreation Office and at the Bellamy Center, or by calling 910-299-4906.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.