Improvements to Story City's North Park are expected to begin in mid-August and be completed next spring.

The $432,000 project, which will be completed by Caliber Concrete, of Adair, includes a new 1,100-square foot picnic shelter with an open design.

“The project was one of the top priorities identified in the city's Parks and Recreation Plan and one of the top three goals identified in the city's 2013 Strategic Priority Goals,” said City Administrator Mark Jackson.

Parks can have a healthy effect on a community. A study published by the Centers for Disease Control showed that creation of or enhanced access to places for physical activity led to a 25.6 percent increase in the percentage of people exercising on three or more days per week.

A group of studies reviewed in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that “creation of or enhanced access to places for physical activity combined with informational outreach” produced a 48.4 percent increase in frequency of physical activity.

The AJPM studies also showed that access to a place to exercise results in a 5.1 percent median increase in aerobic capacity, along with a reduction in body fat, weight loss, improvements in flexibility, and an increase in perceived energy.

Parks can also have an economic impact. In a 2001 survey conducted for the National Association of Realtors by Public Opinion Strategies, 50 percent of respondents said they would be willing to pay 10 percent more for a house located near a park or other protected open space.

In the same survey, 57 percent of respondents said that if they were in the market to buy a new home, they would be more likely to select one neighborhood over another if it was close to parks and open space.

The North Park Improvements Project will also include an extension of the plaza around the antique carousel and a flattening of the terrace grade between the carousel and the tennis courts. The existing memorial brick area near the carousel will be left unchanged.

The tennis court fence will be replaced and will include a place for a removable screen, where movies are often shown by the Greater Chamber Connection during the summer.

Lighting for the existing bandstand, located at the north end of the park, will be upgraded, as will the lighting at the tennis courts.

Another major feature of the project is a trail, which will connect the bandstand, carousel and tennis court areas. The trail will provide easier access to those areas of the park, especially for seniors and for handicapped individuals, Jackson said.

“The city has received a grant from Story County in the amount of $95,750 with remaining funding coming from Tax Increment Financing,” Jackson said.

Several other improvements have recently been made in the Broad Street area near North Park. The original 1936 shelter at South Park was refurbished, concrete trails and two river overlooks were added, and other improvements were made to that park. The community swimming pool was replaced and opened in late-May. River Bend Golf Course is adding cart paths throughout the course. Even Broad Street itself is being improved, with construction occurring from now until August to completely replace a section of the street between Grand Avenue and an area just east of the swimming pool parking lot.