By Zach Hagadone
Sandpoint City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton and Parks Planning and Development Manager Maeve Nevins-Lavtar provided City Council with an update Nov. 16 on planned renovations and improvements to Travers Park — including the much-anticipated James E. Russell Sports Center.
“There’s been a lot of speculation and excitement about this project,” Stapleton said.
However, she added, “Unfortunately our process is taking a little bit longer than was initially anticipated.”
Stapleton chalked that up to a “volatile construction market,” which has resulted in delays to surveying work, geotechnical analysis of soil and ground conditions and “prices are changing daily.”
“It’s a difficult mix to work through,” she said.
The city had hoped to be out with a design by now, but that’s looking more likely to happen in late December or January.
“We are still looking at construction next year,” Stapleton said.
The project represents the centerpiece of an ambitious overhaul of Travers Park, with the James E. Russell Sports Center made possible with a $7.5 million gift from the Russell family, which the city formally accepted in March and marked the largest gift to a municipality that Sandpoint city was able to identify in Idaho.
The family of James “Jim” Russell — who was born in Sandpoint in 1933 and went on to a successful career before his death at age 86 in 2019 — wanted to honor his lifelong love of tennis by supporting a year-round, enclosed sports facility that would feature his favorite sports.
The initial concept envisions a multi-purpose court facility with striping intended to accommodate four tennis courts and 16 pickleball courts — the latter which Nevins-Lavtar referred to as “the fastest and hottest growing sport in America … It’s good to be able to include them.”
In addition, the facility would include restrooms, an entry desk and seating sufficient for tournament play.
Paying homage to Russell’s longtime friendship with the late-celebrated local author Patrick McManus — Russell served as the inspiration for the McManus literary character Retch Sweeney — the project includes bronze statues of a bear and a mountain lioness with cub, created by well-known Seattle artist Georgia Gerber and donated by Ann Hargis and Denny Liggitt.
In addition to the sports center, the nearby Travers skatepark is planned for an expansion to include “all-wheeled users,” with a separate bike facility featuring an asphalt pump track and skills course to be located west of a future parking lot expansion.
A new “gateway plaza” park entryway and improvements to the existing outdoor tennis courts and sports fields are in the plan as well, but especially near and dear to Nevins-Lavter’s heart is the plan for an “inclusive design” splash pad playground. She told the council that she has designed more than a dozen playgrounds, with her 13th due to be built soon in Alaska.
“That is my passion,” she said.
By “inclusive design,” she clarified that while all “all improvements — every improvement on public property — has to adhere to federal ADA regulations … “inclusive design is above and beyond ADA.”
That said, the project as a whole remains in the conceptual phase, with the design-build group consisting of East Coast-based consultancy firm BerryDunn — which acquired GreenPlay about a year ago, the same company that worked with the city on its Parks and Recreation Master Plan — retained to lead the James E. Russell Sports Center development.
Emerick Construction, based in Tualatin, Ore., received the construction contract in July, while Eagle, Idaho-based ALC Architecture and Lincoln City, Ore.-based Dreamland Skateparks are also engaged in the work on Travers Park, which Nevins-Lavtar described as “almost at design development. … We are moving as swiftly as we can.”
“I appreciate your patience,” she told the council. “I’m very grateful for your understanding and assurance that we’ll get there, and that package will be delivered.”
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