Member Feature: Bismarck Parks and Recreation District

Published: 5/11/21 (Tue)

When Bismarck Parks and Recreation District Executive Director Randy Bina reflects on how the organization achieves success, he shares an African Proverb: 

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” 

Throughout his 42-year career in parks and recreation, Bina has experienced the power of collaboration among employees who work tirelessly to deliver valuable services in a safe, professional manner and with partners, including local associations, organizations, clubs, local and state government, and many individuals, to serve the diverse recreation needs of a community.

These collaborative efforts have helped the Bismarck Parks and Recreation District become an award-winning parks and recreation organization.

MEET RANDY BINA, BISMARCK PARKS AND RECREATION DISTRICT EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

As someone who has always been interested in sports and the outdoors, Bina enrolled in a health, physical education, and recreation program while attending the University of North Dakota. The program introduced him to municipal parks and recreation, capturing his interest and inspiring him to pursue a career in this specific field within parks and recreation. He nabbed his first job with East Grand Forks Parks and Recreation in 1979, moved to the Devils Lake Park District in 1981, and joined Bismarck Parks and Recreation District in 1988. He has served as Bismarck Parks and Recreation District Executive Director since 2011. 

Bina enjoys the variety and constant change his career provides, as well as the opportunity to collaborate with many different groups and individuals to meet the diverse needs of Bismarck residents and visitors. 

“Being part of a parks and recreation system that provides recreational opportunities for all people is very rewarding to me,” Bina said. 

SERVING THE COMMUNITY

The mission of the Bismarck Parks and Recreation District is to work with the community to provide residents and visitors the highest quality park, program, facility, and event experience. Bina notes the key words in the organization’s statement are “work with the community,” which it demonstrates by collaborating with partners to offer a variety of programming.

“Our partners are a big reason we’re able to provide such diverse programming and services in our community,” Bina said, adding Bismarck Park and Recreation District currently has more than 280 partners that range from performing arts programs to sports organizations.

“To be successful, we strive to be good listeners and work with our partners to develop collaborative solutions.” 

As an example, the Capital Ice Complex, which opened in 2017, was created with public and private partnerships. Forty-four percent of the project was funded by donors, including organizations, businesses and individuals. Capital Ice Complex, featuring the renovated Schaumberg Arena and the new Wachter Arena, was part of the Wachter Park Master Plan, which also included additional parking, a new picnic shelter, new sidewalk connections, new shade structures, and a new Magical Moments playground.

In 2020, Cottonwood Park was expanded with the help of Bismarck adult and youth softball associations and the business community, with private contributions totaling 42 percent of the project. The expansion of Cottonwood Park included eight softball fields, covered dugouts, scoreboards, parking, a press box and grandstands, two lighted fields at the youth complex, a ticketing building, a restroom/concessions building, fencing, connecting trails, two playgrounds, two picnic shelters, irrigation connection to the Missouri River, and trees and shrubs.

ACCREDITATION AND AWARDS

In addition to learning from its partners, Bismarck Parks and Recreation District has learned from its experiences in becoming the first accredited park district in North Dakota and earning the National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management.  

Accreditation 

The Bismarck Parks and Recreation District earned its first accreditation in 2008 and subsequent reaccreditations in 2013 and 2018. Organizations must apply for reaccreditation every five years. 

“Accreditation is a validation to our community that we meet or exceed standards maintained by parks and recreation agencies across the country,” Bina said. “It’s also a reflection of the great community support, professionalism and pride of the Bismarck Parks and Recreation District.”
There are less than 200 accredited parks and recreation agencies across the country, and Bismarck Parks and Recreation District is the only one in North Dakota. The accreditation process includes a self-assessment of 154 standards, review by an external site-visit team, and final approval by the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA). 

According to the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) and CAPRA, which oversee the accreditation process, a standard is “a statement of desirable practice as set forth by experienced professionals…. In practice, if an agency complies with a given standard, then it is expected that the agency’s operations related to the standard will be positively affected.” One of the 36 Fundamental Standards is a Risk Management Plan and Procedures.  
“Accreditation makes you take a deep look at your parks, programs, facilities, leisure services, and administrative practices, as well as perform continuous review,” Bina said. “It just makes you better.”

Gold Medal Award

Bina describes the Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Parks and Recreation Management as the Academy Award for parks and recreation. The award is administered by the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration (AAPRA) in partnership with NRPA and recognizes agencies across the United States that demonstrate excellence in long-range planning, resource management and innovative approaches to delivering superb park and recreation services with fiscally sound business practices. The Bismarck Parks and Recreation District has won the award twice (1993, 2017). 

“Our ability to address the needs of those we serve through the collective energies of community members, partners, staff, and elected officials has been effective,” Bina said. “This allows us to provide diverse programming, parks, trails, and facilities for our community.”

Extra Credit

As an experienced leader in the parks and recreation field, Bina has been honored to serve on a CAPRA accreditation assessment team for the past five years and was recently selected as a judge for the Gold Medal Award Program.

“For me, it’s been an incredible learning opportunity to gain knowledge and experiences from parks and recreation agencies across the nation,” Bina explained. 

PARKS WITH A PURPOSE 

The accolades Bismarck Parks and Recreation District has earned demonstrate how it strives each day to achieve its vision of being the leader and premier provider of public parks, programs, facilities, and leisure services. Its core purpose is to provide affordable, accessible, and sustainable park and recreation services.  

“Our core purpose is a powerful statement,” Bina said. “It’s critical to ensure we provide accessible recreation opportunities for our citizens and visitors of all ages and abilities, regardless of economic status.” 

Bina shared that BPRD’s vision and core purpose closely align with the National Recreation and Park Association’s three pillars, which are health and wellness, social equity, and conservation. While health and wellness may be an easily recognizable purpose of parks and recreation agencies, social equity and conservation are also important to ensure all people today and in the future can experience the benefits of these agencies. 

To help ensure all people who live in Bismarck have the opportunity to participate in Bismarck Parks and Recreation District’s programs, Bina shared the organization offers a scholarship program to remove economic barriers for people who may not have the ability to pay. Additionally, to offer a diverse range of activities, BPRD has a Matching Grant program through which local associations, organizations, clubs, or individuals can apply for grants to improve or expand recreational facilities, parks or equipment.

Since the late 1980s, the organization and its partners have completed 530 projects through its Matching Grant program. Some of the most recent projects include arboretum improvements with the Bismarck Rotary Club, playground enhancements with local elementary schools, starting blocks with the Aquastorm Swim Team, and an inground trampoline bed with the Bismarck Gymnastics Academy.

“The Matching Grant program has been a great way to develop new partners and strengthen existing partnerships,” Bina said. “Working with partners means there are more opportunities for our community – from art and archery to curling and pickleball.” 

The organization practices sustainability and conservation by making the most efficient use of its land while managing environmental impact. Some examples of its ongoing efforts include urban forest preservation through tree planting and replacement, noxious weeds management and establishment of pollinator gardens. Bismarck Parks and Recreation District has also partnered with other entities to use Missouri River water to irrigate many of its parks and golf courses, reducing city water system impacts.

RISK MANAGEMENT AND SAFETY

With more than 3,400 acres of park land, home to 61 parks and 53 playgrounds, Bismarck Parks and Recreation District has a lot of risk to manage. Through various mediums, the organization communicates with its more than 1,100 full- and part-time employees and volunteers about the importance of risk management and safety, a responsibility largely shouldered by Facilities and Programs Director and Risk Management Coordinator Kevin Klipfel. 

Klipfel has 31 years of experience in the parks and recreation industry, 20 of which have been with the Bismarck Parks and Recreation District. The proximity to risk management and safety throughout his career has turned into a genuine interest for Klipfel, who leads the organization’s 19-person Risk Management Committee. The committee meets quarterly to review incident/accident reports and safety concern reports, identify trends and develop solutions to further improve organizational risk management and safety. Sub-committee groups meet monthly, ensuring risk management and safety is continuously evaluated. 

The committee also reviews risk management and safety trends from local government and parks and recreation agencies across the country to learn about issues other organizations have faced and develop proactive solutions to address these issues locally, if applicable.

Employees from departments and positions across the organization are represented on the committee, ensuring members obtain a holistic view of organizational risk management and safety. Committee members often become valuable champions for risk management and safety, which has helped weave it into the culture of the organization. 

“Just by being on the committee, you’re bringing back information to your area and educating employees, and eventually, it just naturally gets incorporated into everyday tasks and operations,” Klipfel said. 

Prioritizing Safety Training

New full-time employees are first introduced to the Bismarck Parks and Recreation District’s risk management and safety initiatives during their orientation. Klipfel and Julie Fornshell, administrative services manager, meet with them to review the organization’s safety policy, risk management handbook, risk management video, which was produced in-house, and emergency flip chart. Employees are also shown how to complete incident/accident and safety concern reports. Incident/accident reports are used to report an issue that happened, and safety concern reports are used to report a potential issue. 

“We want them to feel comfortable and confident that they can fill out those forms,” Klipfel said, adding the organization establishes benchmarks for the number of safety concern reports each operational area must submit, which further keeps safety top of mind.

Fun Fact: The emergency flip chart created by the Bismarck Parks and Recreation District has been implemented by other parks and recreation agencies across the country! The compact chart provides employees with safety and risk management information at their fingertips, including procedures and contact information. 

Reporting a Safety Concern

Incident/accident and safety concern reports are submitted by employees, preliminarily investigated by supervisors, and reviewed by Klipfel, who looks for trends or opportunities to further enhance organizational safety for employees and visitors. Trends or information he discovers is shared with employees utilizing several communication methods.  

He stressed it is critical employees understand they won’t be subjected to scrutiny for submitting a report.  “It’s not a gotcha. It’s not a ‘Why are you doing this?’” he said. “It’s a ‘What can we all do together to learn?’”

Safety Routine

The Bismarck Parks and Recreation District’s risk management and safety routine enables the organization to continuously review its operations and facilities to ensure employees and visitors are working or recreating in safe environments. The organization performs quarterly internal risk management reviews, annual reviews of policies and procedures, and daily general assessments of its programs, facilities and grounds, including playgrounds, equipment, water quality, hazardous chemicals, lightning detection, fire alarms, carbon monoxide protection, and temperature sensors. 

For example, youth sports coaches are asked to scan the area in which athletes may be practicing or playing games to identify anything that may pose a safety risk. Coaches then follow the safety concern reporting process so the Bismarck Parks and Recreation District can develop a solution to mitigate the risk. 
In order for the organization to be successful in achieving its ambitious safety routine, employees from across the organization need to support its risk management and safety measures. The Bismarck Parks and Recreation District has achieved buy in by regularly communicating with employees and soliciting ideas from employees to encourage their involvement in perpetuating a safe environment. 

Learning Through COVID-19

The Bismarck Parks and Recreation District’s indoor facilities and programs closed March 15, 2020, in response to requests by Governor Burgum and recommendations by the CDC, to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. During this time, the organization’s Executive Team met daily to review information provided by the Governor’s office and CDC to determine its path to reopen.

“We felt it was important for people’s physical and mental health to be able to do something,” Klipfel said while elaborating on the organization’s main focus to reopen in a safe manner as quickly as possible. 

Bismarck Parks and Recreation District reopened its programs and indoor facilities on May 1, 2020.  The organization used the “down time” to conduct extensive cleaning, post signage (COVID-19 symptom posters, safety guidelines, six-foot floor markers, etc.), place sanitizer stations throughout facilities and grounds, install plexiglass dividers at visitor counters, reconfigure environments to enable six-feet between visitors (e.g., cardio machines, weightlifting racks, etc.), and implement new payment systems to allow for low- or no-contact payment processing. 

Klipfel shared many of the changes the organization has made during the pandemic will remain even after it’s over, especially the increased cleaning procedures.

PARTNERSHIP WITH THE NDIRF

The Bismarck Parks and Recreation District has worked closely with the NDIRF to provide safety and risk management training to its employees. The organization offers employees the opportunity to attend the NDIRF’s defensive driving courses and utilizes the NDIRF’s online training platform LocalGovU to administer online training sessions to employees. It also refers to the NDIRF for expert advice on risk management, including requesting site visits in which NDIRF risk services representatives tour facilities to identify risks or hazards and asking for assistance in developing solutions to mitigate potential claims. 

For example, following a couple of incidents in which hockey spectators sitting in the stands were struck by pucks, the organization reached out to the NDIRF to learn if other North Dakota local government entities, as well as other risk pools nationwide, had encountered this issue and how it was solved. From the collaboration with the NDIRF, the Bismarck Parks and Recreation District extended netting in its hockey arenas and at the Bismarck Municipal Ballpark, a solution that had been developed by other sporting venues across the country for hockey and baseball. 

Klipfel noted that by networking and sharing knowledge with other risk professionals, he has been able to gain new perspectives which he can use to further enhance risk management and safety programs at the Bismarck Parks and Recreation District.

The Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) Course, held for the 18th consecutive year in North Dakota in 2020, is an example of a collaborative risk management training with outstanding success. Presented by the North Dakota Recreation & Park Association and hosted each year by the Bismarck Parks and Recreation District with funding support from the NDIRF and North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, the course has increased the number of certified inspectors in the state from less than five to 40 today.

 
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