Residents are making their own suggestions, from the basic to the ambitious, for the November bond election.
The suggestions have included specific locations for new stoplights and sidewalks and better response to winter storms. Among the more ambitious requests include converting Walnut Street to a pedestrian mall, constructing a permanent indoor/outdoor facility for the community market, building a visitor’s center downtown and adding another indoor pool for swimmers on the south side of town.
Last October, the City Council heard a presentation from the city staff about work needing to be done. The staff listed a potential $155 million in capital improvement projects that touch nearly every part of the city’s services. Since then, the council appointed a 50-member bond committee, and that group has been hearing presentations and reviewing proposals since January.
November’s bond election is unlikely to tackle all of those projects. The city staff has said the city can fund somewhere between $50 million and $75 million in capital spending in the coming years without raising the debt service tax rate.
Some residents’ suggestions are close to items already proposed. In the case of a splash park, the park staff put such a project on their list but was thinking of removing it when resident Amber Briggle decided to champion the project.
Briggle maintains that a free splash park could be more affordable for some young families. She has committed to helping raise half the $200,000 needed to build the park.
She said she hopes that the project is a small enough request that it stays on the list.
“But sometimes that’s what makes it easy to take it off the list, too,” Briggle said.
Sidewalks and stoplights
Another resident asked for stoplights on Colorado Boulevard, one at Brinker and another at Mayhill. Streets superintendent Keith Gabbard said the lights at Brinker are already being constructed and should be finished soon. City engineer Frank Payne said the light at Mayhill will be built when the road is widened, work that is expected to begin in about a year. As a result, a stoplight at Mayhill and Colorado will be erected sometime within the next one to four years, depending on the road’s construction schedule, Payne said.
Several residents have asked for a sidewalk along McKinney Street leading up to Ryan High School, a request that has come up from time to time since the school was built. Principal Vernon Reeves said there isn’t a coordinated campaign to get it on the bond package, but he was glad to hear that residents are still working to make their concerns known and heard.
City officials said the Texas Department of Transportation has announced plans to widen McKinney, also known as FM426, in 2017, and that work would include adding the sidewalks. In other words, if the city added sidewalks now, they could be lost in a few years when reconstruction begins.
Sidewalks along Hickory Creek Road leading to McNair Elementary, another suggestion by concerned parents in that area, are on the staff’s list of recommendations with the bond committee, Payne said.
Winter weather response
One resident asked the city for better winter weather planning and response, similar to tornado and hurricane planning and response.
New communication technology is being tested in several states that gathers weather data from vehicles as road crews are out driving and uses it to make better decisions about when and where to treat. Some pre-treatment can help keep ice from forming so crews are able to scrape accumulations off the road, but timing is key.
Sheldon Drobot, scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, said the technology uses data already being collected by the vehicle, such as temperature and pressure and whether the windshield wipers are on.
“The only real cost is to put a cellphone in the vehicle and the data plan,” Drobot said.
After the December storm, Gabbard said he was able to convince city officials to add a snow plow to its purchase of a new city dump truck.
“We were able to do that for less than $20,000,” Gabbard said, adding he thought that was a better use of resources than trying to retrofit the city’s six sanding trucks.
In addition, the city is getting covers for its graders that will allow them to scrape snow and ice, too, without damaging reflectors installed in the pavement.
Michael Penaluna, the city’s emergency planner, said the city joins conference calls with the National Weather Service and plans its response based on what meteorologists are predicting.
Meteorologists in the Midwest have been experimenting with a warning system that combines weather prediction data with the damage anticipated to electric utilities, according to Steven Piltz, meteorologist-in-charge at the weather service in Tulsa, Okla.
“It helps local areas plan a little better,” Piltz said.
The Sperry-Piltz Ice Accumulation Index ranks storms from 0-5, with 5 representing catastrophic damage. Sid Sperry, who helped develop the algorithm that rates the storms, said the index is about 85 percent accurate when the weather forecast is accurate.
For Denton, last December’s storm was the worst the area had seen in 30 years. It was atypical in that temperatures stayed cold long after the freezing rain, sleet and snow had fallen, Penaluna said. Even though it wasn’t typical, the weather service had predicted the amount of wintry precipitation and lingering freezing temperatures accurately.
While the index was developed to help electric utilities, storm rankings could possibly help emergency managers communicate with residents, too, Penaluna said.
“It would be nice if they heeded the warnings,” he said.
Although one ambitious suggestion — building a second indoor swimming pool on the south side of the city — did not come with a full proposal, several of the big ideas residents have brought to the city came with some research and footwork already completed.
Proponents of converting Walnut Street into a pedestrian mall have already had meetings with the staff and the City Council.
The group closed the street for a Mardi Gras celebration March 1 in part to show how the mall might work. The city staff has already provided some preliminary cost estimates, but the council has also asked for more information from businesses in the area and how they might match a city investment.
Kim Phillips of the Denton Convention and Visitors Bureau gave a formal presentation to the bond committee for a new visitors center downtown, although the bureau is exploring other ways to pay for a facility, she said. The proposal suggested rotating exhibits, interactive tools and outlets for local merchandise not for sale elsewhere in the city in addition to the information and services typically found at a fully staffed visitor center.
Members of the Denton Community Market also proposed a permanent indoor/outdoor facility. Several new local businesses can trace their start to the market, according to Vicki Oppenheim, who helped present the proposal to the bond committee.
“We have a good track record for local start-ups, and local agriculture is promoted at the same time,” Oppenheim said.
The Citizens Bond Advisory Committee, which meets again tonight, is expected to meet twice in April and two more times in May before making its final recommendations to the City Council.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.