• Mike Burkons

Beachwood deserves better sports fields. Here is how we can make that happen.

Last month I voted against spending $600k to add bathrooms, a picnic pavilion, outdoor exercise equipment, and additional parking to the dog park area. Even though I don't have a dog, I love that we have a great dog park but I don't see it as logical or responsible to allocate more resources to improve the dog park area when the city doesn't have basketball courts, pickleball courts (I have never played pickleball but it is the fastest growing sport in the country), and our community's youth sports fields are embarrassingly substandard compared to many other cities.

Having nice community sports fields/courts/facilities adds to residents' quality of life just like having a nice pool, tennis courts, community garden and dog park does. Anyone who watched my 6 year old daughter's softball team play would see that youth sports is much less about sports than it is about community, and being part of a "team". I don’t know a grandparent that doesn’t love going to their grandchildren’s’ soccer, baseball, softball games but when Ellie's team played at Hilltop, which only happened when a field isn’t available in Orange or at South Euclid’s Bexley Park, many grandparents can’t go because they can’t make the long walk from the Hilltop parking lot and up the hill to the fields where there is no shade, drinking water and only a porta potty.

Since Beachwood is basically 99% built out with very little available undeveloped land, I only see the following two options to address the community's field/court shortcomings with the second one making much more sense;

  1. Spend significant money to create sport fields/courts and other recreation amenities on the dog park side of the Shaker Blvd median. There are three main downsides to this option as A) many people like this side of the median the way that it is, including the residents who live near it, and B) this option will be extremely expensive as there are tremendous costs involved with clearing out and flatting land, putting in drainage, and other required infrastructure/utilities that will be needed for things like building parking lots and bathrooms, and C) our service department currently utilizes some of this land and we would need find another place where their uses can be relocated to.

  2. Spend City money to improve the sports fields/courts and recreation amenities on school property. This option would cost a fraction of the option above since the schools' properties are already cleared, mostly flat and much of the infrastructure that is expensive to create from scratch like parking, is already in place.

Anytime the idea has been floated to spend city money to improve the outdoor fields, courts or playgrounds on school property, the attitude among Beachwood City officials has always been something along the lines of “that is school property and the school’s responsibility”.

This silo mentality is outdated and been abandoned by most cities who realize it benefits the entire community to improve the youth sports fields, courts, playgrounds etc. on school property as they are used much more by the community than by the schools. I can't blame our school district for not prioritizing resources towards this as their sports fields, especially the ones at Hilltop and Fairmount, are used much more for non school community activity than they are by the schools.

What I am suggesting is not unique or out of the box as many cities spend money to improve outdoor fields on school properties as they are used by the entire community. One of many examples is the City of Fairview Park who spent around $1m to convert natural grass fields at their high school into artificial turf. Not only are these fields used by their community youth sports programs when they aren't being used by the schools, that is $1m that doesn’t have to get funded by the school though property taxes. It goes without saying that lower property taxes benefit every resident and business in the city, even for those who don't use the schools and will never use these fields.

Many cities simply don't have the revenue to be able to afford to this but that isn't the case in Beachwood. Not only is our General Fund revenue is approximately $45m a year when similar sized cities also are known for providing good city services bring in significantly less a year like like Lyndhurst (under $17m) and Mayfield Hts. (under $26m), we are the only city in the county whose general fund revenue (approx. $45m) is more than its school district’s general fund revenue (approx. $36m).

This is because so many of Beachwood's large employers create significant income tax revenue that only goes to the City, but doesn't create revenue for the schools because they are either A) non-profit organizations that don't pay property taxes like the Menorah Park campus, and multiple Cleveland Clinic buildings, or B) are located in the Chagrin Highlands area like Eaton where the property tax goes to the Warrensville Hts. school district instead of ours.

Beachwood's out of whack tax revenue distribution between the City and schools is not intentional but we should acknowledge it exists and realize the only thing preventing the city from spending money to improve our community's sports fields/courts on school property is any elected officials who doesn't support doing so.

Election years are the best opportunity for changes like this occur. If you are resident and want to see real improvement to our community's sport field/courts, make this a campaign issue for everyone on a Beachwood ballot this November. Ask them to publicly state where they stand on spending city money to improve our community's sports fields/courts on school property and let them know this is an issue that will weigh heavily on how they vote. Obviously I support spending city money on this and all it takes is a majority of four Councilmembers to make it happen.

I am interested in hearing residents thoughts on this issue, even if you completely disagree with with my belief that it is in the City's best interest to spend city money to improve our community's fields/courts on school property. I have an open mind and sometimes hearing the devil's advocate argument changes my position, or alters it after hearing something that I hadn't considered. Feel free to email me your thoughts at mike@burkonsforbeachwood.com or call me at 216-832-6771.


Mike Burkons

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