Gravel may smooth park costs

Oak Harbor officials are looking at gravel as a solution for controlling the costs of a park.

Oak Harbor officials are looking at gravel as a temporary solution for controlling the costs of a regional park the city is building on the north end of town.

During a city council workshop meeting Wednesday, Oak Harbor Development Services Director David Kuhl presented a proposal to build a gravel parking lot and a gravel road, at least temporarily, instead of paved versions at the planned park off Gun Club Road known as Harbor Heights.

“I love everything about this,” Councilmember Tara Hizon said. “It’s economical. It’s attractive. It’s environmentally friendly. It allows us to change it later in the future if we want to.”

City staff has been looking at creative solutions for reducing the cost of developing the park since a new cost estimate of the first phase of the park showed an increase from the original $1.65 million to $4.7-$5.1 million.

The first phase consists of two soccer fields and 50 parking stalls. The staff based the new estimate on the design being 60% completed; the former interim public works director said the estimate was likely on the high side.

Part of the high cost of developing the 75-acre park is based on the fact that it slopes significantly and a lot of dirt will have to be moved, Kuhl indicated. The city purchased the property two years ago.

Kuhl explained that the parking lot would be built with a “gravel grid,” which is a high-strength plastic grid that would be filled with gravel. He said they last for many years. The old-fashioned, sprawling gravel lots are not allowed, he said.

Kuhl said gravel has many advantages. It’s considered a low-impact development technique, which means it’s environmentally friendly because the porous material allows rainwater to enter the soil to be filtered. There would be little or no runoff and so retention ponds wouldn’t be needed.

Gravel lots and roads can be installed and maintained with city resources instead of contractors.

Most importantly perhaps, gravel is less expensive than pavement. The cost estimate for a gravel grid parking lot is $13-$20 a square foot, including site preparation, grading, curbing and everything else that goes with it. The estimate for asphalt pavement is $18-$45 a square foot.

Kuhl said the gravel grid method can be a permanent solution for the parking lot.

As far as gravel roads, Kuhl pointed out that not only are they less expensive to build than pavement, but they can be more easily moved. Several locations for the park entrance roads have been explored over the last year, with some controversy.

“We’re thinking of ways to save money on large parks that are going to take a long time to develop,” he said. “Many years. And this will help save funding for other needs the city would have.”

The Harbor Heights Sports Complex will eventually include a perimeter trail, a play area and a variety of sports fields.

With the council’s blessing, the staff will take the proposals to the planning commission for further consideration.