Jim Bell can’t point to one thing he’s most proud of after leading the Fairfield Parks and Recreation Department for the past 30-plus years.
There are just too many.
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“We’ve done a lot,” said Bell, who is retiring after 40 years with the city, the past 32 as the Parks and Recreation director. “Some parks professionals in their career don’t get to build one thing. I’ve gotten to open numerous things.”
He said he “came in at a good time” as the city was just 23 years old in 1978 and focused on growing quality of life amenities.
“The city was at least 20-plus years old, most of their infrastructure was in, so they were really starting to spend on quality of life, and I just hit that perfect,” Bell said.
Bell was hired in 1978 as the parks manager after the city purchased an old private golf course, which is now the Fairfield Greens North Trace course. The parks offices and programming areas were in the old locker rooms that weren’t needed for a public course.
“We started out in the basement of the old golf course clubhouse,” Bell said. “We were programming basically out of the (old) men’s locker room, and the parks offices were in the (old) women’s locker rooms.”
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Bell is the city’s second full-time parks director in the its 63-year history. The first, Joe Weldon, was hired in the 1970s and left in 1986. Bell was promoted to lead the department.
“He’s absolutely left a mark on this city,” said Mayor Steve Miller. “(City Manager) Mark (Wendling) is going to have some big shoes to fill.”
Those big shoes include “an incredibly ambitious parks agenda over the next five, 10 and more years.”
In the past 30 years, the city opened an 18-hole and nine-hole golf course, several new parks, the Fairfield Aquatics Center, Marsh Park, a new golf clubhouse, the Fairfield Community Arts Center and the Village Green.
“We’re now ready for the next person,” Bell said. “We have a lot of things tee’d up so that the next person can just keep this momentum going.”
Major projects in the pipeline for the city include the expansion of Marsh Park, the renovations at Harbin Park and the Miami-to-Miami and the Great Miami River trails. The city is also at the point of needing to refresh buildings around the city, including the 13-year-old Fairfield Community Arts Center and the 21-year-old Fairfield Aquatics Center.
“Somewhere in our (Capital Improvement Project budget) over the next couple of years there’s going to have to be a major renovation of the aquatic center because there’s only so long of a life expectancy on pools,” Bell said. “We keep all of our facilities looking brand new, which is a good thing.”