Luzerne County officials raved about a recent sprucing of the county courthouse lawn, but Councilman Harry Haas said he’s still receiving complaints about the appearance of the adjacent county-owned River Common park.
Several downtown Wilkes-Barre residents have inquired about patches of missing mulch and other maintenance concerns at the River Common, Haas told his colleagues Tuesday.
Courthouse landscaping upgrades made that lawn “look like a golf course,” while the “quality isn’t as good” at the River Common — a park sandwiched between River Street and the Susquehanna River that runs from the courthouse to the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center, Haas said.
“I’d like to see that be on par with the county courthouse grounds,” Haas said of the River Common.
Operational Services Division Head Edmund O’Neill said he had planned on seeking proposals for an outside landscaper to assist county building and grounds workers with River Common maintenance — an option that had been utilized in the past.
Targeted at around $10,000, the outside landscaping contract was to be funded with this year’s $240,000 natural-gas recreation funding.
However, O’Neill said he held off on this outsourcing because the county already has been forced to spend more than $10,000 on the River Common repairing damage from this year’s ice jam, including the removal of tree stumps and addition of soil around newly planted trees.
Another estimated $50,000 to $60,000 will be needed to fix a section of the fishing pier wall that collapsed when the Susquehanna was frozen over, he said.
With the outsourcing assistance on hold, O’Neill has relied heavily on prison inmates to help with maintenance and litter removal at the park. Volunteers also periodically help with weeding.
“Trimming obviously is very extensive with all the areas that have to be done, with the amphitheater and all the seating there. We try to keep up with it,” O’Neill said.
A few more building and grounds workers are obtaining weed control spraying certification, he said.
O’Neill will explore options to beef up River Common landscaping in coming weeks.
Council members, meanwhile, will discuss River Common expenses and other plans for the $240,000 natural-gas funding at their next work session, said council Chairman Tim McGinley.
The county stopped hiring an outside landscaping contractor to maintain the River Common several years ago to reduce spending of the natural-gas recreation funding. The last landscaping contract was for $14,415 in 2014, records show.
Landscaping improvements on the courthouse grounds stemmed from the county’s hiring of Hanover Nursery in Hanover Township for $62,765 to design additional planting beds, restore damaged lawn sections and add 105 tons of topsoil, mulch and numerous plants, its contract says.
County employees will continue maintaining the courthouse grounds, according to county Manager C. David Pedri.
Councilman Robert Schnee said he’s received many compliments about the landscaping and courthouse restoration.
“This is your courthouse, people. Come and see it,” Schnee said. “This is the jewel of the valley. It’s finally being taken care of.”
Pedri said he’s trying to spread the word that couples can rent the courthouse rotunda for weddings at a fee of $500. He encouraged wedding parties to take advantage of the courthouse grounds for photographs.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.