Fairfield park’s $7.5M transformation to create SW Ohio ‘destination’

Leaders: The playground and splash pad feature will be as good as any others in the region, and it will be free.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Harbin Park’s multi-million-dollar facelift is more than halfway complete as it transitions from just another large park in southwest Ohio to what a Fairfield official called a true destination.

By the beginning of August, Phase 3 of the four-phase renovation of the almost 200-acre park in southern Fairfield should be nearly complete. This includes a new shelter, new utility lines, a large one-of-a-kind playground designed for several age groups and an additional parking lot. There is also to be a splash pad, sometimes referred to as a spray ground, ready to be constructed. The Ohio Department of Health has yet to approve the project, though city leaders feel there’s a slim chance it could be ready this year, still.

Once the multi-year project is complete, Fairfield Parks Director Mandi Brock said, “It’s going to be such a draw,” even calling it a “destination” for the entire southwest Ohio region.

Though other communities have nice playgrounds, Public Works Director Ben Mann said Fairfield’s will be “as good of a playground as you’re going to find in southwest Ohio, especially with the combination of a spray ground and playground. This will be one of the pre-eminent play/spray facilities.”

At the end of the day, the total $7.5 million investment, which includes about $1 million from the state in biennium capital budget funds, creates more destinations for the city, said Brock.

The development of Harbin Park had been talked about for several years prior to the start of the actual development. Several iterations of concept plans talked about what could be done with the property, which has its fair share of amenities that were beginning to be outdated, especially the playground, bathrooms and shelters. Until now, there haven’t been any major renovations to the park since it opened in the 1970s.

The city’s Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments have collaborated on the redevelopment of the park. The marquee feature of this phase, and probably the entirety of the project, is the playground and splash pad project. The city installed a new playground at nearby Village Green last year, and has been very popular. However, Brock and Mann feel the new Harbin Park playground is going to be even more popular.

“With the popularity of the Village Green playground, we know the Harbin Park playground is going to be big,” said Mann. “It’s going to be that much more popular.”

Harbin Park’s playground ― an all-inclusive accessible play area that can accommodate wheelchairs and strollers ― will be about three times larger than the one at Village Green.

“The playground helps,” Mann said. “If you go down to a concert, that playground’s packed. If you go down there mid-day during the week, there are people down there. And this Harbin Park playground is three times bigger.”

Brock said Village Green visitors in May 2023 numbered around 8,000 people, and after the playground was installed, more than 16,000 people visited the downtown Fairfield park.

“Visitors have doubled, and the only major improvement was our playground,” Brock said, adding they have upgraded programming. She said this supports the thought that Harbin Park’s redevelopment “is going to be such a big improvement for the community.”

And Brock, who previously worked for Blue Ash before coming to Fairfield, said she knows of no other community with a splash pad and playground like what’s being built in the southern Butler County city.

Also being considered for the Harbin Park redevelopment: a new parking lot adjacent to the playground — there will be a path leading from the lot to the play facility that will take up about a third of the 3-to-4-acre hillside that will be flattened.

Phase 3, with the exception of the splash pad, should be completed by early August.

Brock and Mann said the state has had questions about the splash pad, particularly about a slide feature, since Fairfield submitted the request in January.

It may end up that the city would need to amend the construction plan by either replacing or removing the slide feature. If that’s done, city officials have said they believe the permit could be approved.

Depending on the timeline, including the permit approval and the contractor’s schedule, there’s a possibility the splash pad project could be finished for limited use this year. Construction would take about six to eight weeks.

Engineering for the last phase of the Harbin Park redevelopment will be underway soon. Fairfield City Council approved the city manager to contract a final engineering and design of Lower Harbin Park. Cincinnati-based Von Euw Tetrault was on the team that designed the upper portions of Harbin Park.

The plans call for replacing the shelters and restrooms, and adding other potential amenities. Final design plans will be completed this summer, and City Manager Scott Timmer said at last week’s City Council meeting that the intent is to begin construction on that phase this fall.

Construction is likely to be completed by early 2025 “with every effort being made to keep as much of the park open and usable to the public as possible,” Mann said, adding that the final construction schedule is weather and contractor dependent.

“As the community is growing, too, it’s going to give kids a place to go, and families to go,” Brock said. “It’s about quality of life as it gives people a reason to come here and move here.”

About the Author