Town commissioners were feeling pretty aggressive when they told brand new Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Polaski to see what he could do to put together a grant application last fall for some big state money.
Polaski had already told commissioners that it was probably too late to put together a winning application from the state’s Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, but he had his eyes on the next funding cycle.
But that hesitancy didn’t stop commissioners. They wanted Polaski to try.
The gamble paid off on Halloween when Polaski attended a meeting in Raleigh and learned the town’s request for $250,000 had been granted.
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The grant is a dollar-for-dollar matching grant, which means the town will have to put up its own $250,000 to earn the state money.
Commissioners prepared for that possibility last summer as they put together the annual operating budget, agreeing to pursue loans that would include enough money to provide the match if the town won the grant.
Wendell’s win was significant because it was one of 67 applications totaling $12.6 million, though the state had only $4.9 million in grant funds available.
Town leaders will use the money on a number of efforts, including an outdoor walking trail that will encircle the ball fields and encourage some of the participants who currently use the indoor walking facility to get outside and enjoy that environment.
“Right now, we have the Hugh Moody Nature Trail, but that’s uneven and it goes through the woods and some of our walkers didn’t want to be out in the woods where they couldn’t be seen,” Town Manager Teresa Piner. “This gets them out of the community center and gives them a defined trail that puts them back where they started.”
The grant will also pay for the creation of an additional multi-purpose field, additional paved parking and a new playground that will be relocated closer to the ball fields to allow parents to watch one child play ball while still keeping an eye on younger children who want to play instead of watching the ball game.
Piner says there’s no way the town could do all that without help from grant funding of some kind. “We have to leverage our funds. With our fundamental needs that we have provide for each and every day, without PARTF, we could never do something like this,” Piner said.
Though the town only has to pay $250,000 to meet the terms of the grant, Piner said the work at Wendell Park will likely cost the town somewhere in the neighborhood of $550,000. The town will pay the additional cost. Piner and finance director Butch Kay are scheduled to meet with officials at the Local Government Commission to begin working out details of the loan process which commissioners approved last summer.
Piner expects the town will be as aggressive getting the work done as it was in pursuing the funding. “I think we’ll have all that money spent this year,” Piner said. “Will everything be ready to use by the end of the year? Maybe not. It’ll take some time for the multi-purpose field to be usable after its built, but I think we’ll get the work done this year.”
Piner said winning the grant was a little bit of a surprise considering the late start the town got on the application process.
“Our biggest fear wasn’t whether we could get something in on time, but could we send something out that was quality. We’re small, but I’ve always said we can still do quality. So I was worried about protecting our town’s reputation with the state with whatever grant application we submitted,” Piner said.
The town contracted with a consulting firm who had submitted other successful PARTF grant applications to work with Polaski, who had won PARTF grants in other towns where he had worked.
That strategy paid off for the town.