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March 19, 2014

Terre Haute Park Board hears plea for Rea Park restoration

TERRE HAUTE — The Terre Haute Park Board on Wednesday heard a presentation from a concerned community member about the need to rehabilitate “one of Terre Haute’s greatest landmarks.”

Mike Harding, a retired principal and assistant superintendent, who is moving back to the area from Evansville, gave a Powerpoint presentation to the board during its monthly meeting at Torner Center in Deming Park about the condition and ideas for improvement of Rea Park Clubhouse and grounds.

Harding is working on the project with a group that includes Park Board President Mike Webster, Parks and Recreation Superintendent Eddie Bird, Terre Haute City Planner Pat Martin, Wabash Valley Community Foundation Development Officer Scott Williams and Tommy Kleckner of Indiana Landmarks, who co-presented with Harding.

The golf course is in great condition, Harding said, but the clubhouse, dedicated in 1925, is deteriorating and “in desperate need” of rehabilitation. Harding worked there as a boy.

According to his presentation, a recent inspection found that the clubhouse roof needs to be replaced, interior rooms may need to be repurposed and updated, and “poor drainage may be causing serious foundation problems.”

After hearing Harding’s comments, the board gave its support for the creation of “Friends of Rea Park.” It will be a service organization that, according to the presentation, will create public awareness about Rea Park’s needs and programs; attract volunteers to help staff deliver services; raise funds; and display historical artifacts associated with Terre Haute’s city tennis and golf championships history.

In 1919, businessman William S. Rea gave a $100,000 bequest to the course, “which remains much the same today as in the early 1920s,” according to Harding’s presentation.

About three years later, in 1922, 160 acres were transferred to the City of Terre Haute by Rea’s widow, Geraldine Rea, and construction began “on the city’s first public 18-hole golf course.”

The clubhouse was later built with $60,000 from Geraldine Rea and was dedicated on Sept. 9, 1925. It also became official city property.

“The conditions involving the city’s acceptance included the fact that the city should establish, beautify, and forever maintain the land as William S. Rea Park,” Harding said, quoting a Sept. 10, 1925, article of the Terre Haute Star.

Harding and the group that has been discussing the topic believes “Rea Park is one of Terre Haute’s greatest assets.” They want to have a study conducted to determine factors such as the clubhouse’s condition, the cost to rehabilitate, the possibility of using it as a banquet or meeting center for the community and proper use of the park grounds around the clubhouse. The study would be under the direction of a professional, registered architect, Harding said.

In addition to forming the “Friends of Rea Park,” the group also wants to organize an effort to place Rea Park on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We certainly appreciate your interest and welcome your help,” said board member Nancy Cummins.

• Also during the meeting, the board voted to approve the Environmental Restrictive Covenant, one of the steps in the planning process of Terre Haute’s first-ever Bark Park, planned for the north end of Fairbanks Park.

The signed Environmental Restrictive Covenant, which lists some restrictions on the use of the area, is required by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management before bids and construction can proceed, Terre Haute City Planner Pat Martin said.

According to the document, the area should not be used for residential and agricultural purposes or extraction of groundwater. It also prohibits any activity that may interfere with groundwater monitoring or well network.

The park will be on property owned by Vectren Energy Delivery. The land was once home to a manufactured gas plant dating back to the Civil War, Martin said. Construction may begin in April or May, Martin said.

He also presented the board with a draft plan of the restoration.

“The idea is for this to be a permanent restoration,” Martin said.

“From a strategic planning standpoint, this is ideal because it reactivates an empty space. … It brings more activity into the area,” he added later.

“It also fits in with our strategic vision for the [Wabash] river” and the mission of “making downtown Terre Haute more of a destination.”

• Also on Wednesday, the board voted to accept a bid for the replacement of the pool pump at the Deming Park pool. The bid was a little over $19,000 from Wright’s Pool Service.

• The board also informed the public of a bid it received for the resurfacing of a portion of the Oakley Playground in Deming Park. The bid was from Sinclair Recreation Inc. in the amount of $155,053, board officials said. The resurfacing is planned for the smaller Deming playground used by younger children.

Marcus Maurer, an engineer for the City of Terre Haute, will review the bid to ensure it complies with proper specifications before the board takes action on it next month.

• The Park Board’s next meeting is scheduled for April 16.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or


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