Customer Spotlight: Columbus Indiana Parks and Recreation

Columbus Indiana Parks and RecrationIn order to help promote our customers and show our appreciation to them, we occasionally put the spotlight on one of our customers and feature them on our blog, promote them on social media, and highlight them in our newsletter. The spotlight customer for February is the Columbus, Indiana Parks and Recreation Department, which was founded in 1947 and currently maintains nearly 1,000 acres of park land and over 20 miles of trails. They’re also responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of several large facilities and numerous athletic fields.

The responsibility for coordinating the maintenance of all the department’s facilities and equipment falls on the shoulders of Tim Coomer, who has been with Columbus Parks and Recreation for nearly 31 years.  For most of his time with the department, Tim was the Golf Course Superintendent, but within the last few years he has stepped into the role of Facility and Equipment Maintenance Supervisor. Tim recently shared with Kenney Machinery what it’s like to maintain the parks and recreational facilities for a city of over 40,000 people. Here’s what he had to say in response to our questions.

Tell us a little bit about the facilities your department is responsible for.

“First of all, we maintain the Parks and Rec office in the Donner Center, which is also an aquatic center and a conference facility. We take care of everything from the HVAC system to making sure the chemicals in the pool are measured correctly. 

“Next, there’s a building we maintain known as the Commons, which is a former mall that was purchased by the city and turned into a state-of-the-art gathering space that features an indoor playground, performance hall, shops, and a live roof. In addition, we have an indoor ice arena at the Hamilton Center, numerous athletic fields, many playgrounds, and two golf courses. It’s also the job of my mechanics to maintain all the equipment required to keep our facilities running smoothly.  That includes everything from weed eaters all the way up to $120,000 ice resurfacers, so it’s quite the range of equipment.”

What are you doing to modernize the golf courses since the city took back management of them in 2015?

“The golf courses, which had been leased out by the city for the past 7 years, were not in great shape when we took them over. One of the courses had flooded in 2008, which damaged a lot of the equipment. We were fortunate in that the city allowed us to purchase $600,000 in new equipment, including a new irrigation system for one course. We plan on continuing to invest in the courses during the next 5 years to bring them up to our standards.”

What accomplishments are you most proud of during your tenure at the parks department?

“There’s two things that stand out in my mind. The first is that I built a green on one of our two golf courses, which is a Pete Dye course. It was part of a project to enlarge the tees back in the 80’s, and it was the first time I had ever done that. The green is still there over 20 years later and still looks good.

“The second thing that comes to mind is the Freedom Field playground I helped build, which opened in 2006. At the time it was the second-largest in the nation and the largest in the state, and it was unique due to its design that allowed kids with disabilities to use it. I was extensively involved in the project, from deciding what manufacturer to use, to making decisions about the size, and how it was going to look when everything was completed. Part of my job is to inspect all the playgrounds run by the Parks and Rec Department, and it’s a responsibility I take very seriously, for the welfare of the kids who play on the equipment.”

Is there anything that you wish visitors to the parks knew about what it takes to maintain them?

“I want people to understand that, like with all municipalities, we need to jump through a lot of hoops to get things accomplished. Although we get a lot of support from the community, including from Cummins Inc., a fortune 500 company based in Columbus, we still have a bureaucracy to deal with, especially when it comes to adding new things. 

“This might make it seem to some people that we aren’t keeping up with the latest trends, when the reality is that it just takes a long time to get things approved. When I first started, people wanted more tennis and basketball courts. Now it’s pickle ball and rugby that are trending. Just last year we built two pickle ball courts, so we do our best to keep up with the times.”

What advice would you give to other facilities and equipment managers and turf professionals who take jobs working with parks departments?

“I’d tell them that they need to have a passion for serving the community, because it’s not a job you take for the money. It’s more than a 40-hr a week job, but the pay doesn’t match the workload. So, you need to have a passion for the work so that you can see a project through even when it’s taking time away from your family or your free time.”

What role does Kenney Machinery and Toro equipment play in helping you maintain the facilities and equipment at Columbus parks?

“Kenney Machinery has been outstanding, with both service and sales. I wish that all the companies I dealt with handled their business the way they do it would make my job a lot easier. 

“As an example, for the recent work we began when we took back control of the golf courses, we started the process of purchasing the equipment in October but didn’t get the approval until July. During that time, the communication with our sales rep was fantastic. There was a lot of in-person meetings, emails, and last-minute phone calls when we needed specific information, and he was great about getting us what we needed. 

“As far as the actual equipment goes, Toro is usually the forerunner. It seems like they’re always thinking outside the box and designing the equipment in such a way that it’ll be easy to maintain, which makes my mechanics job much easier.”

We thank the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department for their business, and Tim Coomer for taking the time to share his experiences as the Facility and Equipment Maintenance Supervisor with us. If you ever find yourself in Columbus, be sure to visit some of the parks or play a round of golf on one of the two golf courses. In the meantime, you can learn more about them on the Colombus Parks website.