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Published: Tuesday, 6/13/2006

Olander offers to manage Sylvania city park system

Sylvania city parks could come under new management if officials agree to a preliminary proposal from the Olander Park System, known as TOPS.

The proposal, discussed yesterday at the Olander Park System's board meeting, outlines possible plans for TOPS to operate three of the city's parks that could be considered as nature preserves with proper restoration and preservation.

The three parks include the 26 1/2-acre Harroun Community Park in downtown Sylvania.

Management of city parks has been an on-again, off-again topic of discussion through the years, but city officials said the topic surfaced again as a result of recent changes in Harroun park that triggered an outcry from the public.

A ravine, described as key to the Lathrop House project in the park, was ravaged and a retention pond was created in the park several weeks ago.

It is said that slaves escaping and traveling to Canada used the ravine as cover while making their way to the Lathrop House, a stop along the Underground Railroad.

City officials are looking into proposals to modify the retention pond and restore the ravine that is near the historic Lathrop House in the park. Estimated costs range from $26,000 to $50,000

Gary Madrzykowski, director of the Olander Park System, said last night that TOPS is "strongly interested" in managing Harroun park as well as the 14 1/2-acre Richards Park (formerly Woodland Park) and the 10-acre Indian Spring Park.

Other city parks are much smaller and TOPS' recommendations for those parks range from giving a tiny park to a neighborhood association to turning over management to another agency.

Doug Haynam, a Sylvania councilman who serves on council's parks and forestry committee, said yesterday that TOPS' proposal is intriguing.

"Olander does parks. That's what they do," he said. Although the city has a great park system, he's interested in the idea of having Sylvania area parks as a single entity.

Sylvania has one school system that serves the city and Sylvania Township, and the city and township have a joint recreation district and a joint senior center, he said.

"The Olander Park System is a joint undertaking of the city and the township. I think it is worth thinking about the possibility of combining the park systems and having a single community park system."

Gail Abood, TOPS commissioner, said Olander Park System officials are interested in the idea, and said that "we would like to see an arrangement that would be more beneficial to the community."

The benefits, said Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough, include a financial one. If TOPS operated the city parks under the TOPS' district-wide umbrella, "it might help to spread the tax burden to a broader tax base," he said, a base that likely would include Sylvania-area residents who use the city's parks.

The levy-supported Olander Park System's district includes the city and Sylvania Township.

Details haven't yet been discussed about how TOPS would manage the city's parks if a change were to occur. Mr. Madrzykowski said that there could be a variety of options, including a lease arrangement or a management agreement. The city, officials emphasized, could certainly retain ownership of all of its parkland under a management arrangement.

Councilman Haynam said that at this point any operational agreement with TOPS is only at the idea stage. "I think it is at the earliest stages of consideration," he said. "I think our community values its parks, both those in the Olander Park System and those that are part of the city of Sylvania's park system. Parks improve the quality of life, and I think it is worth thinking about how to secure that and how to best provide that going forward" for the years to come.

Input from residents will be sought as discussions continue, he said.



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