Executive Summary of Masterplan
This executive summary provides a high-level overview of the Town of Manchester’s Parks & Facilities Master Plan elements, including:
- The demographic and income profile
- Community engagement
- The recreation program analysis
- Recreation trends
- Trails and connectivity analysis
- Park and facility assessments
- Level of service (LOS) analysis
- Conceptual vision plans
- Funding and revenue strategies
- Strategic action plan
- Implementation strategies
Demographic and Income Profile
Utilizing Esri data, BerryDunn reviewed several key socioeconomic indicators in relation to park and recreation services. All data was acquired in 2020, reflecting the actual numbers reported in the 2010 U.S. Census. In 2010, the median age of the 58,241 Town residents was 37 years. This was slightly lower than the U.S. median age of 38.8 years and also that of Connecticut (CT) at 40.8 years.
The Town’s total population is projected to experience minor growth between 2010 and 2025 with an increase of 1% (or 337 residents). Minor shifts are expected in the youth age categories, with two increasing slightly and two decreasing slightly. Overall, the change is expected to be 568 fewer residents between the ages of 0 and 19 years. The predicted shift in the adult population (ages 25 to 64 years) is a decrease in every category ranging from a 1.8% decrease (ages 55 to 64 years) to a 19.2% decrease (ages 25 to 35 years). All of the age categories over 65 years are expected to increase significantly. Combined, the number of adults over 65 years of age is expected to increase by 3,746, or 120%.
In terms of race, the data projects that the Town’s composition will shift by 2025 with a decrease of 11.6 percentage points (or 6,599 people) in the White Alone category. The increases include those who identify as Asian Alone, which is predicted to increase by 3.7 percentage points (or 2,139 people), and Black Alone, which is predicted to increase by 3.4 percentage points (or 2,054 people). The ethnicity of Hispanic Origin (a designation independent of race) is expected to experience an increase of 7.6 percentage points (or 4,464 people) by 2025.
The predicted change in gender composition between 2010 and 2025 is fairly insignificant with a .01 percentage point increase in the male population and a .01 percentage point decrease in the female population.
In 2020, the Town’s median household income was $70,645, which was 11.8% greater than the U.S. national median income of $68,400. A 6.4% increase is projected by 2025, which would bring the median household income to $75,167.
Over the course of three months, nearly 1,600 people provided input regarding the Parks & Facilities Master Plan (the Plan) in a variety of ways. The engagement included 6 staff focus groups, 12 community focus groups, and 4 focus groups with local high school students. In-person engagement was held at four locations in October 2020, and a virtual town hall meeting was held in November 2020. A total of 405 statistically valid surveys were submitted to ETC Institute (ETC), 79 surveys were completed on Your Voice Matters, and 454 visits were made to Your Voice Matters between late July and mid-December 2020.
The consulting team gleaned a great deal of information from all of the various engagement avenues resulting in the following top 10 themes:
- Charter Oak is visited frequently, and the recent upgrades are appreciated by residents—residents are looking for the same types of upgrades in other Town parks (completing the 2018 Center Springs Master Plan is a priority for many).
- The Town has a history of providing well-organized, well-run, and affordable recreation programs.
- The brand of the Department of Leisure, Families and Recreation (the Department) has greatly improved in the recent past.
- There is a concern about Town and Department finances following the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are very important, and more attention is needed for some underserved groups.
- The aging indoor recreation facilities are not meeting the current needs, and therefore, they will not meet future needs.
- Safety and security are concerns in some parks after dark.
- Upgrading the existing pools and adding new spraygrounds is important.
- Park maintenance is a priority for investment.
- Completing the Town’s trail connections for hiking and biking is highly desired.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, there is also a strong desire for the Town to enhance current partnerships and seek out new ones in order to be more efficient with funding and reach new people.
Recreation Program Analysis
The Department offers a variety of opportunities for Town residents. The recreation analysis identified opportunities for recreation program and service expansion to meet community needs and desires in a comprehensive way. The following summary highlights the key points of the analysis; the full recreation analysis provides detailed insight into each core program and the individual analyses therein.
Throughout all of the focus groups conducted as part of the community engagement, the importance of DEI were mentioned at nearly every meeting—from the teens through the seniors. Town residents view diversity as a cornerstone of the community and want to ensure that there are programs and services available to everyone.
As part of the statistically valid survey administered by ETC, the following programs are slated as high priorities for investment in the Town:
- Fitness and wellness
- Outdoor and adventure recreation
- Nature enjoyment
- Senior adult activities
- Boating, kayaking, and canoeing
- Programs focusing on history
When comparing the Town’s programs to the BerryDunn database of recreation assessments completed for agencies across the country, the consulting team determined that the Town offers 61.7% of common program offering types. Typically, park and recreation agencies offer just over 50% of the common programs, so the Department is doing very well with its variety of offerings.
According to the Department staff, core recreation programs include:
- Early childhood
- Youth sports
- Adult sports
- Family programs
The consulting team analyzed the Department’s core program offerings by season (summer, fall, winter, spring) from 2019 – 2020 and found that the most programs of programs were offered in the summer, and the greatest number of programs offered were related to aquatics. In terms of ages, the greatest percentage of programs were offered for children ages 0 – 5 years, while the lowest percentage of programs offered were for teens ages 13 – 17 years.
The consulting team compared Department programming from 2019 – 2020 to the Town’s demographics and found that the largest discrepancy is for the adult population with 48% of the population but only 16% of Department program offerings.
As part of the recreation program analysis, Department staff completed program life cycles worksheets for all of the core program areas. The consulting team used the resulting data to determine the percentage of programs in the introduction, growth, mature, and decline stages. For the Department, the largest category is mature programs at 53%, and the smallest is introduction at 7%. A healthy balance between the stages is optimal, with a bulk of the programs in the growth and mature stages. The timing is ideal for the Department to provide an influx of new, innovative programs.
The consulting team has also reviewed Department marketing efforts. This is an area where great strides have recently been made. The Department has a full-time position that includes marketing and communication in addition to some programming duties. The Department creates three seasonal program and event catalogs that are included in the Better Manchester Magazine that is mailed to residents. The results of the statistically valid survey indicate that 74% of respondents are very satisfied or satisfied with the availability of information about programs and services on the website. Just under 63% are very satisfied or satisfied with the ease of the online registration process.
Based on the results of the community engagement, the statistically valid survey, and the review of current offerings, the consulting team identified several programming opportunities for the Department to consider, including the following:
- Nature enjoyment
- Outdoor and adventure recreation, such as boating, kayaking, and canoeing
- Wellness programming
- Birthday party service
- Child care
- Dance/music/performing arts
- School break camps
- Historical programs
- Programs for children who are homeschooled
- Science, technology, engineering, and math programs (STEM/STEAM)
- Youth fitness
The consulting team evaluated the current policy and procedure for pricing programs and services. Historically, the Town has operated within a policy of charging low fees to no fees for programs. Based on the review of the Town’s finances via the budget documents posted on the Town’s website, the annual subsidy to the Department is increasing, and conversely, the cost recovery percentage is decreasing. With the minimum wage increasing to $15/hour in July 2023, the cost recovery of the Department is likely to continue to decrease unless changes are made either by increasing fees or decreasing expenses.
In the final section of the recreation analysis, some best practices for the provision of recreation programs are outlined in conjunction with a number of specific recommendations. The recommendations are divided into four groups:
- Demographic considerations
- Programming considerations
- Marketing considerations
- Items that are worthy of continued analysis
In conjunction with the recreation programming analysis, the consulting team provided a series of current trends. The trend information provided are categorized into general recreation, outdoor adventure activities, fitness, age-related trends, and some new trends as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trails and Connectivity Analysis
FHI Studio, based in Hartford, CT, was included as part of the consulting team to:
- Map existing trails, greenways, and pathways
- Assess the existing trail system in the Town based on the available data
- Identify gaps in the trail system
- Produce a strategic connectivity plan by identifying and recommending a network of pedestrian and bicycle facilities that will connect parks to neighborhoods and schools across Town
- Provide trail maintenance recommendations
Once the FHI Studio team identified all of the gaps in the trail network, they considered four different types of trails to complete the connections including:
- Bike lanes
- Shared roadways (or sharrows)
After the appropriate connection type was identified by FHI Studio staff for each trail gap, a three-phased plan, with cost estimates, was compiled. The FHI Studio team also reviewed a number of suggestions for connectivity solutions offered by several Town stakeholders and provided feedback.
Park and Facility Assessments
To Design, based in New Britain, CT, was included as part of the consulting team to complete a review of Town park sites to assess the condition of all amenities, including:
- Sports fields
- Play structures
- Site furniture
- Outdoor courts
- Pools and spraygrounds
- Stairs and walls
In addition, To Design accessed the functionality of vehicular and pedestrian circulation, parking, stormwater management, and way finding. For each park site that To Design evaluated, there is a park map, photos, and a table of To Design’s detailed findings.
The Consulting team toured all of the Town’s indoor recreation facilities, including the Senior Center, Mahoney Center and Leisure Labs, The Community Y Recreation Center, Nathan Hale, and Robertson School. Based on the facility conditions, results for the community survey and public engagement, program registration, and staff experience and expertise with Town programs, a potential new community recreation center is recommended to meet the current and future recreation needs of the community.
LOS provides guidelines in determining the appropriate level of parkland and amenities such as athletic fields, outdoor courts (tennis, basketball, and volleyball), and playgrounds. The consulting team used a variety of methods to create LOS guidelines as a result of the absence of a universally accepted method to determine standards. The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) has evolved from the use of unilateral standards applied to all agencies and has moved to creating more customized information through the Park Metrics Program. This database includes information from approximately 1,000 agencies nationwide that can be filtered by population, budget, location, etc.
LOS guidelines help to ensure an equitable distribution of parkland, facilities, amenities, and recreation programs throughout the system. The following mechanisms were used to complete the LOS process:
- NRPA Park Metrics
- Survey results
- Resident input
- Review of the equity distribution of parkland, facilities, and amenities
- Staff and consulting team input
The LOS includes an acreage LOS analysis and an amenity quantity LOS analysis.
Conceptual Vision Plans
With information gathered throughout the needs assessment, programming and trend analysis, and public engagement, the To Design team produced conceptual visions with cost estimates for six Town park sites:
- Northwest Park
- Union Pond/Robertson Park
- West Side Recreation
- Mt. Nebo
- Globe Hollow
- The Nike Site
The plans delineate proposed features, upgrades to existing facilities, and features to be removed. The goal of this effort is to recommend recreational enhancements that not only serve residents, but also are sustainable today and in the future. As part of this task, To Design provided a color rendering to accompany each concept plan.
Funding and Revenue Strategies
The Consulting team compiled examples of funding and revenue strategies used by park and recreation systems throughout the country for the Town’s consideration. This summary includes fund sources that relate to operating dollars and to capital dollars and provides an overview of foundations, conservancies, nonprofit organizations, public-private partnerships, endowments, legislation, grants, sponsorships, and crowdfunding strategies.
Strategic Action Plan
Following the staff visioning session, the consulting team created the final strategic action plan in alignment with the four themes: (Manchester is) dynamic, connected, thriving, and sustainable. All of the goals are divided into the key concept areas of programs, parks, trails, and facilities and then grouped by the recommended time frame for completion:
- Short-term (1 to 3 years)
- Mid-term (4 to 6 years)
- Long-term (7 to 10 years)
It is very important for the Town to successfully implement the Plan. In addition to strategies included in this section, such as the identification of a plan champion, ongoing employee engagement, reporting mechanisms, and internal marketing, the consulting team will facilitate a Strategy Implementation Workshop for the staff after the Plan has been approved. It is critical that the proper organizational culture be created in order to support the effective implementation of the Plan.