Gary Budzak | The Gazette

Residents hear plans for J.R. Smith Park

SUNBURY — Plans have been proposed to update one of Sunbury’s parks in the next couple of years.

The City of Sunbury held community open houses on April 13 and April 15 seeking feedback on J.R. Smith Park. After a brief presentation, residents got to select preferred amenities and improvements for the park. Members of the Parks and Recreation Committee and planners CT Consultants were on hand to answer any questions.

Named after a local resident, J.R. Smith Park is at 20 S. Morning St., near the city’s square. The 4.3-acre park currently includes a football field with goalposts and scoreboard, concession stand, bleachers and announcer’s box, two half basketball courts, a running track and playground.

“J.R. Smith hosts the Big Walnut Youth Sports Association football and cheer sports,” states Sunbury’s 2020 Parks Master Plan. “Their season starts in late July and goes through October. Meeting rooms are available in the Lion’s Building, but the facility is underutilized. Access from the surrounding neighborhood needs to be improved. There are no sidewalks and the streets are in need of repair; there is considerable traffic on the adjacent streets.”

The 2020 master plan outlines improvements to the park like additional parking spaces, bike links to the Ohio To Erie Trail (OTET) and an amphitheater.

When asked by the city, “If money was available, what improvements do you think should be made?” Sunbury residents said in 2020 to improve/expand the playground, add other recreation features such as a splash pad, and improve the appearance of J.R. Smith Park.

Additional comments about the park, in the appendix of the 2020 master plan, included the following:

• “The current condition of the park would lead any logical person to believe it was abandoned and nobody cared for it.”

• “This park needs a real playground, see St. John Neumann Catholic Church as an example.”

• “This area is completely underserved. The park needs to have a complete overhaul. With the close proximity to The Square this park has the potential to be a community asset. As it stands now it is an eye sore and an embarrassment to call it a park.”

The city’s 2023 Parks Master Plan update to J.R. Smith Park features a pavilion, splash pad, more lighting and more trees. At the April 15 open house, held on the town square, comments included adding a water feature like a pool or splash pad, more OTET and neighborhood connectivity, and sprucing up the square.

City Council President Tim Gose told The Gazette there is no deadline on submitting feedback about the park, but the Parks and Recreation Committee will be meeting on May 3 to go over the public comments from the open houses. Work on updating the park will begin once grant funding is secured, which is likely two to three years from now.

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Assistant Editor Gary Budzak covers the eastern half of Delaware County and surrounding areas. He may be reached at [email protected]