At their Tuesday night public meeting, the Newton City Commission discussed the future of the downtown flower planters, ultimately approving an arrangement for them to remain.

Newton City Engineer and Director of Public Works Suzanne Loomis introduced the conversation to the commission, noting that, while city budgets are tight, flowers in the downtown area remain important to many throughout the community.

While staff's original plan ("Plan A") was to cut funding for downtown flowers, Loomis said staff has developed a "Plan B" for the downtown planters. That plan involves four different steps.

Step one of the plan would include splitting the seasons for the planters into two main categories: live growing season (April through October) and ornamental season (November through March).

According to Loomis, step two of the plan would include allowing Stutzman's Greenhouse to donate planting services and live plants for the planters.

Loomis said staff has already spoken to Ben Miller and Stacey Dennet from Stutzman's, and they agreed to collect liners for the downtown planters in mid-March, take them to their facility in Pleasantview, fill them with new soil and fertilizer, and plant them as they had been planted previously.

Following those preparations, Loomis said Stutzman's would return the fully planted liners to the downtown area by the first week of April.

Loomis noted that Stutzman's only concern was that a reputable individual or company be hired to water and care for the plants after they are planted, to insure the plants do not die.

Step three of the plan drafted by city staff includes entering into a contract with local businessman and former Park Department staff member Justin Keazer. Loomis said Keazer has a horticulture knowledge-base and has agreed to water the downtown plants for $40 a day.

Keazer also quoted a price for watering during a six month period or 213 days of work – a total contract of $8,520 for the live growing season (in step one of the plan).

During that time, Keazer would use his own equipment and provide watering once per day, seven days a week (using city water). Any additional watering would need to be supplemented by city staff or adjacent business owners.

Step four of staff's plans for the downtown planters includes an arrangement with Director of Career and Technical Education for USD 373 Melinda Rangel and Newton High School (NHS) and Hutchinson Community College (HCC) welding teacher/instructor Mike McConnel.

That arrangement dictates that NHS and HCC Welding classes would make three different types of metal art snowflakes, as designed by city staff, to place in the planters during the ornamental season.

Loomis said the city would pay $20 per flake, provided that the welders agree to the city's designs for flake sizes. With the city's agreement, NHS and HCC plan to have the flakes completed by the end of April, and city staff will be able to sandblast and paint the flakes over the summer to have them ready for next fall.

The city is also developing a program, called the Fund A Flake campaign, which will allow business owners and concerned citizens to purchase flakes for display in the downtown area. Funding a snowflake would cost $35. With enough contributions, Loomis said the people of Newton could fund the wintertime decorations and the metal snowflakes would likely last the next 10 years.

Commissioner Glen Davis questioned whether, at a future date, flowers could be extended onto side streets (in the downtown area). City Manager Bob Myers said the city also needs to consider the additional costs related to decorating the businesses south of the train tracks.

If all of the flakes were supported through donations, commissioner Kathy Valentine noted the cost of the decorative snowflakes and even some of the expenses for watering could be relieved. Loomis echoed Valentine's comment, stating that more snowflakes would be purchased or funded than would be immediately needed and they would be a one-time cost.

During public comment on the issue, concerned citizen Laurie Hartke suggested collecting rainwater off of business roofs and potentially having business owners water their own plants.

In response, Davis and Newton Mayor Barth Hague said relying upon business owners for watering the plants had proven inconsistent or ineffective in the past.

Loomis said she liked the idea of rain barrels, but water for the plants would need to be consistent, and water off of roofs would be difficult to store or collect consistently for everyday use in the downtown setting. 

In a single motion, the city unanimously voted to accept the donation from Stutzman's Greenhouse, approved contract terms for watering by Keazer and approved the acquisition of metal snowflakes from NHS and HCC.


Among other business items, the commission:

* Received a recommendation from the Newton Public Building Commission (PBC) for a revision of its Capital Improvements Master Plan for recreational facilities. The commission approved the revision, but before it is enacted, it will also need to be approved by USD 373 and the Newton Recreation Commission.

Myers noted his desire to see the much needed Centennial Park restroom completed more quickly. According to the PBCs improvement plan, the facility is intended to be redesigned in 2018 and constructed in 2019. Noting that the need for the facility has been discussed for a long time, Myers mentioned potential for the city to offer the PBC a loan from spare financial reserves – to expedite the facility's construction. Myers said the PBC could pay back the loan when its funds become available.

The commission voted to approve the previous changes to the capital improvements plan. A solution for accelerating the project will be discussed at a later date.

* Recognized Newton High School students Elizabeth Groote, who sings soprano, for her selection to the All State Choir, Ben Payton, who plays the guitar and the trumpet, for his selection to the All State Jazz Band and Jason Wong, who plays the violin, for his selection to to the All State Orchestra. All three students were introduced by Newton High School instrumental music teacher Kara Tanner.

* Received a report from Carol Sue Stayrook Hobbs on 2016 progress regarding the ReNewton Bicycle Initiative. Aside from offering various forms of bicycle education and supporting newly established lanes and share lanes, Stayrook Hobbs said the initiative partnered with USD 373 and the Safe Kids Coalition to introduce a new physical education curriculum for safe bicycling in the elementary school, partnered with the Healthy Harvey Coalition, the Newton Women's Fund and Safe Kids to provide a 130 free bicycle helmets and 100 free bicycle locks to Newton residents and partnered with Healthy Harvey, USD 373 and Safe Kids to hand out free Newton drawstring (reflective) backpacks to elementary students who rode their bicycles to school on Bike to School Day.

* Received a project update on the Neighborhood Revitalization Program. Newton Director of Community Planning and Development Kelly Bergeron said the Neighborhood Revitalization Program is still attempting to expand the borders of the Neighborhood Revitalization Area to include three new properties.

Bergeron said the idea was recently scheduled to be before the USD 373 School Board, but the board has recently been kept busy with other business. Bergeron said the board is scheduled to address the matter at their meeting on March 13.

* Received a project update on the old Dillon's property and new Newton Police law enforcement center. Regarding the intended property, Loomis said the city had previously been working with an architect, previously began looking at contamination at the site and has submitted for the Voluntary Cleanup Program through the state.

Loomis also said staff has now confirmed the site's contamination is due to a previous diesel fuel spill, and that the process of cleaning that contaminant could be addressed soon, assuming test results work out as anticipated. Loomis said analysis of the contaminant should be completed in the spring.

In addition, Loomis stated that the current Newton Police facility has received a carpet upgrade and is now asking for new paint. As the new police station is still years off, Myers said these few small fixes are designed to help alleviate some of the many problems regarding the current police station.

Hague stated his desire to form an advisory group to help plan for a future police facility. With the impending Kansas Tax Lid, which would limit cities' ability to raise property taxes without a public vote, Hague said the advisory group could help to find a solution for the new station that is: 1. the best approach from a cost/value perspective, 2. an approach that can find the most favor with the people of Newton and 3. the option that works best for the people of Newton, both now and in the future.

Commissioner Leroy Koehn has already agreed to represent the city commission in the intended advisory committee.