The Paul J. Cochran Veterans Memorial Park project should be breaking ground in the near future. (File photo by Eric Niemann)

This past November when the Philomath City Council approved of a landscape architect’s conceptual drawings of the planned Paul J. Cochran Veterans Memorial Park, city officials mentioned hopes for construction to be substantially completed by the end of June.

That was more than a month ago and the project on the corner of North 16th and College streets still hasn’t broken ground.

“I don’t have a date but yeah, I think they’re gearing up to get started on it,” Assistant City Manager Chelsea Starner said in response to a question at Tuesday evening’s Park Advisory Board meeting.

Starner did say that Philomath Public Works has been working with the project’s contractor on details.

“I haven’t gotten a groundbreaking date yet but I do think that they are getting ready to mobilize, it looks like just based off some of these conversations we’re having,” Starner said.

The late Beverly Durham, who was Cochran’s mother, donated the property to the city with the intention of developing it into a park named in memory of the son she lost during the Vietnam War.

Eric Niemann, a local veteran and former mayor who has been heavily involved with the project and stays in touch with Cochran’s family members, even had hopes that the park would be finished by the fifth anniversary of Durham’s death — a date that arrives this Saturday, Aug. 5.

But for whatever reason, there have been delays — developing construction plans, going through the public process, communicating with the state on getting a deadline extension on a grant that had been awarded, connecting with community partners and securing materials and other components in this post-COVID world all could’ve factored into the timeline. 

The project didn’t go out for bid until May 18 and the City Council awarded a $213,071 contract to Mid-Valley Gravel at its June 12 meeting. (Incidentally, Mid-Valley Gravel’s Kenny Pellett took down the Durham home in August 2020 to clear the way for the park).

The park’s trees came up during the Park Advisory Board’s conversation Tuesday and Starner didn’t have a full answer for what might happen to some apple trees that are currently standing in the north section of the lot. She said it’s a divided issue but did mention that keeping the crabapple-producing trees would be “messy.”

“There is a little bit of a concern that because the playground is right there, that fruit trees bring lots of yellowjackets and there’s children,” she said.

A large tree that had fallen victim to rot was removed in late September and plans call for a large-caliper canopy tree to be planted.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.