In 1998, Meridian had 26,000 people and two parks totaling about 20 acres.
"We had Storey Park and 8th Street Park," said longtime City Councilman Keith Bird. "That was it. That was our park system."
Today, the city has 81,000 people and 19 parks covering nearly 250 acres. It owns another 141 acres of undeveloped park land.
Growth in what is now the state's third-largest city generated property tax revenue that allowed city leaders to channel more money to parks. In 1998, the parks budget was $1.5 million. This year, it's $8.3 million.
"We've simply been applying continuous positive pressure on the 'flywheel' of parks and recreation in Meridian over the past several years and the result is what you see today," said parks Director Steve Siddoway.
The city's 2003 park master plan called for "pay-as-you-go" park improvements focusing on a mix of regional, neighborhood and special-use parks and sports fields located so that "no resident will be further than about one mile from a park."
With the opening of Julius M. Kleiner Memorial Park last year, Meridian now has two regional parks. The city intentionally made the two parks different, said Siddoway. "Kleiner Park doesn't have a single sports field," he said. "It is a more traditional park. Settlers Park is almost entirely sports fields. It is a tournament park."
An $800,000 expansion of Settlers Park's tennis facilities is underway. Crews are adding four full-sized tennis courts, three youth-sized courts and a tournament court with stadium seating and lighting. And get ready for pickle-ball: Settlers' smaller courts will be striped for the tennis/badminton/ping-pong hybrid that is growing in popularity. The new tennis courts should be ready for action next summer.
The city quickly outgrew its 6,500-square-foot park maintenance facility. In May, it opened a 24,336-square-foot shop, giving staff plenty of room to fabricate, maintain and store park equipment.
"We have paid cash for everything," Councilman Bird said. "No bonds, no debt."
Next up, the city wants to create dog parks. The police department agreed in 2009 to let citizens use the canine training area next to the police station as a dog park, but that proved too popular, with up to 100 frolicking dogs a day. And the city must close the dog park early next year because that's where it's building a new public safety training facility, Siddoway said.
The city is considering several other sites for dog parks, including adjacent to the new parks maintenance facility, at an undeveloped section of Storey Park and on undeveloped park space near McDermott Road and Cherry Lane.
The city is reviewing options and hopes to have recommendations for the City Council in October.
"It is our goal to construct a facility next year that will be available to replace the existing dog park when it closes for construction" of the public safety training center, Siddoway said.
The city wants to keep its park mojo going.
"We have accomplished the lion's share of its 2003 park master plan," Siddoway said. Next, the city is setting its sights on creating a new regional park in South Meridian on 77 acres it owns off Lake Hazel Road and securing land along the Boise River (yes, Meridian now extends north to the river) for a riverfront nature park.
"South Meridian will have a major park of its own in the future," Siddoway said.
That's not all that's in store for South Meridian.
Earlier this year, the Treasure Valley YMCA announced it was looking for a location in the Valley to build a new branch and was conducting a market study looking at sites in South Meridian, North Meridian, Nampa and Eagle.
According to a report released in July, the South Meridian site is "by far" the best site, Treasure Valley YMCA Vice President Scott Curtis told city and park officials last week.
Based on those findings, South Meridian could support a full-service 80,000- to 100,000-square-foot facility with a pool and gymnasium and bring in up to 15,000 members in its first year.
Treasure Valley YMCA CEO Jim Everett said the organization already owns land adjacent to Mountain View High School. If it can secure additional land, the YMCA will start fundraising and possibly break ground early next year.
"So far, all signs are good. I am feeling really optimistic," Everett said.
Of course, the city is thrilled the YMCA is considering opening a new location in South Meridian. The Parks and Recreation Commission has been talking about the need for indoor and year-round recreation space, Mayor Tammy deWeerd said. "The YMCA will fill this gap and offer residents more recreational choices," she said.
NEW PUBLIC SAFETY TRAINING CENTER
Early next year, the city plans to break ground on the $4.5 million public safety facility adjacent to the police station - the first of its kind in the state, said Deputy Chief Tracy Basterrechea.
Featuring an indoor shooting range, mock scenario village, classrooms and dog training equipment, the 31,000-square-foot facility will be geared toward multiagency training, including police, fire and public works.
"This is for major catastrophe-type training," Basterrechea said.
Including public works is important, because its function is often overlooked.
"They play a big role in many major incidents, including flooding and fires," he said.
Quickly getting to and shutting down gas or power lines is critical in some situations, and having all first responders train together will improve on-the-ground response, Basterrechea said.
Today Meridian police use the Boise police shooting range in the Foothills, which caused controversy recently when the city of Boise announced plans to expand. After hearing public concerns about safety and proximity to trails and outdoor recreation areas, the city put expansion plans on hold.
Meridian is paying for the new public safety training facility and indoor shooting range, but Basterrechea said it would be open to other agencies on a fee basis.
Cynthia Sewell: 377-6428, Twitter: @CynthiaSewell