It’s an 80-acre “crown jewel” park, the site of cherished memories dating back decades. But now the future of Clark Center Park is in doubt.
The U.S. Department of Energy is considering turning the park over to the federal General Services Administration, which could sell it, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson told City Council members Monday. He said it’s part of a cost-cutting effort in DOE’s Oak Ridge Office.
Watson suggested DOE was moving quickly and could shut down the park as early as this fall. But before that happens, Watson said, he wanted to give residents and officials a chance to weigh in.
“This is an important community decision,” Watson said during a Monday night work session. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Although they haven’t voted yet, City Council members said they want more information, and they suggested they would like to have additional discussions to possibly keep the well-maintained park, which is heavily used on weekends.
“Why would we ever say ‘no’?” Council member Charlie Hensley asked.
“It would take us millions of dollars to put together this kind of waterfront property,” Council member Anne Garcia Garland said.
Watson said the city previously said “no” in 1993.
Clark Center Park is in south Oak Ridge on Melton Hill Lake. Also known as Carbide Park, it includes two ball fields, two large picnic areas, a small playground, a boat ramp, restrooms, fishing trails, and a beach. It also includes access to the Gallaher Bend Greenway.
Watson said it costs DOE about $300,000 per year to maintain.
City officials have a variety of questions they would like to try to answer before agreeing to take over the property: Is there water and sewer at the park? Would DOE agree to help move utility poles in the infield of a ball field? What are the implications of having a city beach on a lake, without a lifeguard? It’s “swim at your own risk,” and Oak Ridge officials need to consider that, especially after an eight-year-old boy drowned while snorkeling near the swimming area in June, Watson said.
Other questions: What would the city do with the park? Can Oak Ridge absorb the cost and additional maintenance requirements? How would public safety, including police and fire response times, be affected?
Council could next consider the park during its August 11 meeting. That meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Courtroom.
More information will be added as it becomes available.