Bibb commission wrestling with recreation plan, SPLOST projects

rmanley@macon.comNovember 24, 2012 

Bibb County officials are making a list, and you can bet they’ll be checking it at least twice as they work to define the scope of a proposed master plan for parks and recreation.

The county has almost $40 million in SPLOST money earmarked for parks and recreation improvements, but commissioners have lamented the restrictions that came with the penny sales tax referendum, which by law commits funding to facilities that might not fit into a long-range plan to best serve the county’s changing demographics.

“My hope, at least, is no matter what the time frame is, we can come up with some sort of overreaching kind of plan,” Commission Chairman Sam Hart said in a work session last week.

As planners work on a long-range plan, they must include the identified SPLOST projects in its initial phase, commissioners agreed. Some of the big-ticket items include $8 million for a new “Sub South Recreation Complex,” $6 million in new ball fields and improvements at Central City Park, and $4.3 million for a “New Rosa Jackson Center.”

However, it also guarantees millions of dollars for existing facilities such as Freedom and Bloomfield parks and Frank Johnson Recreation Center that might not best fit into a new master plan that considers the city’s and county’s changing growth patterns.

In the meantime, the commission is asking staffers to identify “low-hanging fruit” -- simple repairs and improvements that can be done as the planning progresses.

“You don’t need a planner to tell you a roof is bad,” Commissioner Elmo Richardson said.

Commissioner Joe Allen said projects such as the Sub South complex might be long-range work, but the county needs to tackle smaller projects to “give the communities something to show” for their money.

“I want something so people can see you’re doing something,” he said. “We can say. ‘This is what we want now,’ then take a look at each project to see where it fits in that broad plan.”

Hart admitted that the county’s “hands are tied a little bit” because of the SPLOST referendum. However, the ballot listed only dollar amounts and locations, so there is some leeway.

“We’ve got a lot we have to do,” he added.

Rather than wait on the plan, the county could decide to give the go-ahead to certain projects, such as $1.25 million in upgrades at the John Drew Smith Tennis Center.

Officials also must decide which of the county’s six swimming pools it wants to resurface -- as well as adding handicap lifts -- before next summer, even though all the pools might not fit into the new master plan.

“The swimming pool issue looms large,” Commissioner Lonzy Edwards said, noting statistics that show a disproportionate number of black youths drown because they have little access to swimming pools and swimming lessons.

The commissioners instructed staffers to bring back a list of immediate work possibilities to the next commission meeting.

“We’re already working on some of that low-hanging fruit to bring back to you,” Steve Layson, the county’s chief administrative officer, told the board. “The value of your planner is going back into the community and saying, ‘Is that what we heard that you want?’ You evaluate what is needed at that park and you prioritize. I think it’s important that you go back and talk to the community.

“It’s important that we challenge these communities. Just because they’ve got a gym, if they know there are opportunities for some of these other things, they might want something else.”

The commission also tossed around ideas to offer programs such as vocational training at some of the centers.

“Make sure we’re using recreation not just for recreation’s sake,” Edwards said. “We’ve got some social problems that need to be addressed.”

Project coordinator Len Hindsman, who once managed SPLOST projects for the Bibb public school system, stressed the need for a long-range plan, saying a plan would make voters more likely to pass a new SPLOST, if needed, when the current one expires.

“That way you’ve got a road map,” he said. “Then the public sees that road map.”

The commissioners agreed that the SPLOST projects need to be planned out before the new consolidated government takes over in January 2014.

To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.

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