Dunwoody’s mayor and City Council awarded $490,000 in Facilities Improvement Partnership Program grants to three nonprofits to improve the city-owned properties they operate, but some councilmembers raised questions about the funding process.
The Dunwoody Preservation Trust was awarded a $240,000 FIPP grant to go toward site lighting, hardscape plans such as sidewalks and completing the garden plans for the Donaldson-Bannister Farm in hopes of being able to open the new city-owned park this year. An additional $60,000 will be used from the Donaldson-Bannister Site Improvement capital fund, which is separate from FIPP money.
The Stage Door Players were awarded a $50,000 FIPP grant for interior and exterior improvements at its theater.
The mayor and City Council also approved a $200,000 FIPP grant for the Dunwoody Nature Center for the construction of a new North Woods Pavilion in the city-owned Dunwoody Park.
The new pavilion is needed to provide more space for programming, such as summer camps and school field trips, and to alleviate continued capacity issues, according to Executive Director Alan Mothner.
The $200,000 was $100,500 less than what was requested, however, and will not cover the construction costs for the new pavilion.
Before the vote to approve the funding, Councilmember Lynn Deutsch raised concerns she had with how the process of determining how much money is awarded to which nonprofit.
Parks and Recreation Director Brent Walker said nonprofits submit applications. When the funding requests exceeds the total amount available, as was the case this year, then a small committee is formed to score the applications based on criteria, including project benefits, timeframe and scope.
This year, the committee included himself, the assistant city manager, the accounting manager and the Community Development planning manager. The application with the highest combined score receives the most money and so on, Walker said.
“I struggle with how we are handling our partnerships,” Deutsch told Walker. “This [funding process] is a piece of that.”
Deutsch said it made sense to her to include how many people actually use a facility as part of the criteria for funding.
“The Donaldson-Bannister house is totally a work in progress,” she said, stressing she did not want to diminish any nonprofit’s work.
“I don’t think it’s going to get the same kind of usage as others — we’re investing a lot of funding in things that look pretty, like gardens and grass,” Deutsch added. “But that’s just something to look at – there is no utility in that.”
Councilmember Pam Tallmadge also asked if making decisions on FIPP funding before the Parks Master Plan is approved made sense.
Nall said the parameters used to determine funding this year is the same that has been used in years past and to question the process now is not fair to the city’s partners.
“We can deal with additional funds for the pavilion at a later time. I’m interested in the Donaldson-Bannister home getting open,” he said.
After the meeting, Mothner said the Nature Center needs the additional $100,500 to build the 1,800-square-foot pavilion and that he would be following up with Nall to ask about additional city funding.
“We’re happy to get the funding we received for the pavilion,” Mothner said.
But the Nature Center is “out of space,” he added, and the pavilion is necessary if it is to continue providing programming to thousands of people each year. Plans are to break ground for the new pavilion in August, leaving just a short time to find the additional $100,500.
“We’re desperate for it,” he said. “Our programs have plateaued for so long … we can’t continue to serve the community unless we have it.”
Mothner said the Nature Center also showed the city a return on investment with the pavilion, saying it would generate some $61,000 a year and pay itself off in five years.
The Nature Center board will also consider taking money out of its reserves to cover the extra $100,500, or even extend its current capital campaign, Mothner said. Plans are to have the pavilion completed by March 2018.
Last month, Jim Williams, president of the Dunwoody Preservation Trust, gave an update to the council on the Donald-Bannister Farm, saying the “number one goal” of the DPT was to open the historic site and property this year. “But it’s going to take some work,” Williams said at the time.
The city and DPT entered into a partnership agreement in 2012 giving DPT the reins in rehabilitating the farm property to open it to the public. In 2015, significant work got underway to make the farm accessible.
The original cost to completely ready the site for public use was estimated at nearly $4 million, but Williams told the council last month the total now looks closer to $1.3 million. Approximately $700,000 has been spent on the site and another $600,000 is needed to finish the repairs and rehabilitation needed to open the farm and park.
Williams also said to his knowledge the DPT was the only nonprofit partnership with the city not able to use the facility it is operating.