INDIANAPOLIS — Indy Parks is looking for online public comment after neighbors become outraged over potential changes to an Irvington park. They believe the city was trying to make the move behind their back, and put an artificial turf field on top of construction being done by Citizens Energy. The fear is the field will become a future eyesore, and potential environmental hazard.

“I think it stems from the systemic disrespect the city seems to show the east side of Indianapolis,” says Charles Miller, President of the Irvington Garden Club, “‘For far too long our needs and our desires for this park have been ignored, and to find out that in a 2017 secret meeting it was decided that a fake turf field would go in, struck a lot of people in the community the wrong way.”

Part of Ellenberger park has been under construction by Citizens Energy. A piece of their 28-mile Dig Indy Tunnel System project runs through the park. In addition to the field, post construction is to include trail enhancements near the construction, public bathrooms, and a bridge renovation.

“They are working on combined sewer overflow from going into rivers and creeks. The goal is to move it into storage tanks underground,” explains Jason Larrison, the City-County Councillor for this district, “The concept is to try and leave it in a better condition than they found it.”

Neighbors are worried that potential plastics from the field may run into the nearby river. Indy Parks claims the turf will be made from environmentally safe materials.

“It’s not your typical crumb rubber people are used to,” says Ronnetta Spalding with Indy Parks, adding that the field’s makeup is supposed to be partly soy based, “We would make sure that it is done safely, and not going to hurt the environment or the park at all.”

“From what we are learning by doing our own research by our own passionate individuals is that even those are blends of plastics,” responds Tyler Sheller who lives along the park.

“The fact that petroleum-based products will filter into our water for a project designed to clean up our water way is ridiculous,” adds Miller, “It filters out a large portion of the watershed for the east side of Indianapolis.”

There are also concerns that the field will not be maintained because other parts of the park are rundown. The pool hasn’t been open in two years, mostly due to COVID and hiring issues, and the ice rink on the property lays dormant.

“How is a multi-hundred thousand dollar artificial turf going to be anything different than this ice skating rink,” questions Sheller, “There’s so many things at this park where investments are done by the good will of the community.”

“The Garden club had to pay to remove all the dead trees that we had there for years,” continues Miller.

“We haven’t had an investment in this park in a while. There was a master plan done 20 years ago, but not a whole lot has been done from it,” tells Larrison, “Indianapolis per capita has one of the lowest dollars spent on parks per year of any of our peer cities. Nashville spends four times per person on parks. The challenge is we only have a finite amount of tax dollars available.”

Due to the nature of the project, any money from it can only be done in the area where Citizens is working. It can not be allocated to fix up other areas of the park.

“With Citizens Energy being a public trust and a utility, they are really limited to doing on work on areas they impacted,” explains Larrison.

Miller and other neighbors were hoping to see a different addition to the space. They have been asking for an amphitheater with lawn seating. In the past, the Irvington Garden Club sent a letter city officials and Indy Parks to talk about their concerns and desires for Ellenberger park.

“We didn’t receive any engagement from the city and the parks department until late November,” says Miller.

Now Indy Parks is looking for the public’s input. They have an online form for people to fill out to voice their concerns. Neighbors can choose between three options, an artificial turf field, a natural turf field, or no changes at all. Submissions end April 15, and you can find a link to that form here.

“We are asking people for feedback, and the feedback we get, we will use that to inform a decision,” explains Spalding, “This isn’t something where we get the survey results then we have a decision.”