Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
FAIRFIELD – Fairfield residents might have noticed that their Central Park just received an upgrade.
Prospect Companies, Fairfield city staff and volunteers recently completed the installation of eight tables that can accommodate 32 people, including two spaces for people in wheelchairs. The city council approved the project in the summer of 2020, and after funds were raised in the ensuing months, it became a reality.
The eight tables are divided into two stations, a station of four tables west of the Ron Prill Bandstand and another station of four tables east of it. They were installed on top of newly laid brick pavers, matching the existing brick paver design in the downtown.
One of the two stations was finished Oct. 1, just in time to be used that evening during Fairfield First Friday’s Oktoberfest celebration. Council member Michael Halley, who has spearheaded this project, said he was thrilled to see the tables get so much use on their first day. It fulfilled a dream he’s had for several years, and one that was put on pause after the council voted down installing tables in Central Park in 2017.
Halley has represented Fairfield’s Fourth Ward, which includes Central Park, since assuming office in 2010.
“Almost immediately, I got some Fourth Ward citizens asking to put tables in Central Park,” he said.
Events such as Fairfield First Fridays Art Walk and the All Things Italian Festival served food in the park, but there was no good place to eat it, Halley said. They had to eat it from their lap, on a blanket, or use one of the concrete benches as a table. In 2015, Halley noticed that residents were more and more moving the green benches in the park over near the concrete benches so they had a place to set their food.
That same year, Fairfield participated in Iowa’s Living Roadways Community Visioning Program, where a team of design students from Iowa State University suggested upgrades to the participating cities. Fairfield has followed through on several of those suggestions such as reconfiguring the pedestrian crossing at the intersection of Burlington Avenue and Ninth Street and adding a limestone welcoming sign and planting trees on North Highway 1.
One of the suggestions from the design team was to add tables to Central Park. The original plan called for 36 tables, which Halley and Stephen Pedrick of French-Reneker-Associates scaled back to just eight tables, and presented that idea to the council. When it came to a vote in 2017, four council members voted against the plan and only three in favor, so it failed.
The following year, the Fairfield Park and Recreation Department brought two picnic tables to the park and chained them to pine trees. Halley said this step was key in turning the tide in favor of adding permanent tables.
“It was a proof of concept,” Halley said. “Did trash increase? No. Was there vandalism? No. It calmed some people’s concerns about the tables.”
The parks department added two more picnic tables in 2020. A few other council members encouraged Halley to bring his proposal for permanent tables back to the council. Halley thought that timing was right because so many restaurants on the square were offering take-only in light of the pandemic that it created a surge in demand for seating in the downtown. This time around, the proposal passed by a 4-3 vote.
Halley was able to secure a couple of grants from the Greater Jefferson County Foundation, which agreed to contribute about $20,000 for the tables and another $6,000 approximately for the brick pavers. That covered more than half the cost of the project, which ended up being about $41,000.
In the end, Halley said he’s glad the first proposal failed because he thinks the second proposal he brought to council was a better plan.
“As we were putting the brick pavers in, a city employee who was not a fan of the project at first told me, ‘I’ll eat crow. I admit this looks very nice,’” Halley said. “Those pavers and tables will last for decades.”