Bedford schools, township weigh options for Indian Creek
Bedford Township’s school and government leaders are working together on a solution to renovate a park property that has gone downhill – and determining who is responsible for its upkeep.
During recent meetings, both the Bedford Board of Education and the Bedford Township Board of Trustees have discussed options for the park area known as Indian Creek, located on the east side of Douglas Rd. between Dean Rd. and Temperance Rd.
The park area is owned by the school system but has been maintained by several parties, including the township and the Community Education program, based on longstanding agreements. The Community Education program provides a wide range of activities for both children and adults, including sports teams and learning events.
Now, after the property has fallen into a state of overgrowth and diminished upkeep, the parties are discussing some options, including a potential sale of some land to the township.
During the township board’s June 2 meeting, Chas Mann, who sits on Bedford’s Park Commission and acts as liaison to the board for Indian Creek and White Park, advocated for a potential sale to the township.
Mann said that while things have been good overall for the parks in Bedford, Indian Creek has been problematic.
“Currently it is owned by schools, leased by the township, overseen by the parks (commission), used by Community Ed, and maintained by township and school maintenance together,” he said. “That’s a lot of neglect for one piece of property.”
Mann said that the Parks Commission pays for things such as portable restrooms and dumpsters, and that the township pays for some mowing, but much of the upkeep and operating expenses stop there.
“That’s really all we put into it,” Mann said.
Current lease agreement for the township to use and maintain a walking trail on the property expired in 2019. Mann said they are asking the township to reconsider the status of the lease, citing a lack of ownership as a primary issue.
“We would not put a roof on a rental house, and we would not buy furniture for a hotel room,” he said. “Indian Creek needs more investment than is financially responsible from the people who don’t own it.”
Mann asserted that there are two paths moving forward – allow the lease to remain expired and give the property ownership back to the schools, or to buy the property outright from the schools.
“We are talking all the fields, all the diamonds, the stadium, the parking lot, the woods, the driveway, everything,” Mann explained.
Mann added that he has met with Bedford Schools Superintendent Dr. Carl Shultz to discuss the problem.
“(Shultz) has made the comment several times that he is in the business of educating kids and not mowing the grass,” Mann said. “He should sell it to someone who is in the business of mowing the grass.”
Mann added that he understands the idea of everyone working together to maintain the property for public use, but that sentiment does not always get the necessary work done.
“How many times have you mowed your neighbor’s grass?” he asked. “I get it, but you’re only going to put so much into something that isn’t yours. That’s where we are with Indian Creek.”
Mann outlined a proposal for the township to purchase the entire property, which included ideas for flattening the fields and ensuring regular upkeep, renovating the 6 softball fields currently on the property, demolishing old bleachers to add fields for soccer and lacrosse, adding new hiking trails, and installing a dog park.
However, Township Trustee Todd Bruning noted that Shultz has only expressed interest in selling the northern half of the property.
Shultz clarified that the school system stores their 46 buses along with its transportation facilities on the south side of the property. This area also includes an old stadium and track. Shultz added that the school district needs to keep this area for a required safety exit.
Township Supervisor Paul Pirrone also asserted that purchasing the entire property is not an option. He highlighted a portion that the township could purchase, or he said they could reform an agreement to maintain the track – or even the entire property.
Either way, Pirrone and others at the board meeting agreed that something needs to be done.
“It is an absolute mess, what we have,” Pirrone said. “We have an agreement an inch thick from the 90s, from when the ball diamonds were put together. A bunch of businesses came together and built the ball diamonds.”
Trustee Joe Gore agreed that the conditions at Indian Creek are poor. He said that he and others sometimes take their kids to other locations outside of Bedford where there are better-maintained fields and facilities for non-K-12 sports.
During public commentary time, Jeffrey King of Temperance, said that he has performed maintenance on the property. He explained the amount of time and equipment that it takes to mow and keep up the property, and he added that he thinks that currently maintaining the area is stretching labor resources too thinly.
“Without a current contract or agreement, I believe we should be using our manpower elsewhere in the community,” he said.
Trustee Craig Montri said that he thinks the area should represent a focal point for the Bedford community and become a point of pride for the township, along with neighboring White Park.
“I’m of the impression that Indian Creek is the biggest wasted piece of potential in our entire township,” he said. “It’s sad because it should be a shining beacon that brings families. (The parks) should be the envy of every neighboring township, city, or village.”
Bruning said that Community Education should be responsible for the upkeep, and not the township government, or schools.
“Community Ed should really be like a YMCA program – a private program,” he said. “It should not be under the schools.”
Bruning said that the school board is often responsible for offering financial aid to the Community Education program to help it break even.
“If it was a private program, it would make money,” he added.
Shultz said that he thinks there is some opportunity to continue partnering with Community Education. He explained that Bedford Schools acts as a sort of financial benefactor for the program, while allowing it to maintain some autonomy in its activities and leadership.
“I do believe that we can do it better,” he said. “We need to sit down and figure out what portion the township and park board would like to have a part of that.”
Pirrone said that one entity needs to take sole ownership and upkeep or come up with a new contract that fairly shares maintenance responsibility.
Shultz said that there is currently no price set for Indian Creek because it is not officially on the market. However, he did consult with some experts about potential values. He added that if the township made an offer, the school district would be interested. He said they could also be interested in a new lease agreement.
“We’ve had a loose agreement, and it clearly isn’t working,” he said. “However, we believe we can strengthen the proposal.”
Shultz echoed Mann’s earlier assertion that the school district’s attention is better placed in the classroom, but he asserted that he also has responsibilities to the people of Bedford.
“The district’s mission is to educate pre-K-12 students – that’s by law, that’s our mission,” he said. “But I’m also not willing to allow our community of over 30,000 residents to not have a place that I think is valuable to them.”
Township Treasurer Krista Jandasek said that, while the township can help, it does not have the resources to take on another park project.
“I’m okay with maintaining just the walking trail,” she said. “We are having trouble maintaining the parks we already have.”
Township Clerk Trudy Hershberger explained to the board that there is a decades-old agreement for the Parks Commission to give Community Education $50,000 per year in aid, but it was amended to $25,000 several years ago. Therefore, funding is scarce.
“If we had a millage, maybe we could afford more, but we can’t,” Hershberger said. “It would come out of our general fund.”
Hershberger agreed with Jandasek regarding the current trail system, which was created with the understanding that the township would maintain it.
“I think we owe it to the schools to maintain this trail that we put on their property,” Hershberger said.
Montri acknowledged that the township may be stretched thin for maintaining the grounds but noted that there may be potential to use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, also known as ARPA, to help fund the project – as well as the option to propose community support for a millage.
“This is a benefit to the entire township,” Montri said.
Trustee Rick Steiner said that, while he is happy to discuss options for the board to get involved with the Indian Creek property, they will have to do more research and gather more information before making any decisions on a purchase or new lease.
“With what we’ve got before us today, we can’t do anything.”