WARNER ROBINS -- Recreation in Warner Robins is swinging toward upgrades in 2013.
Plans City Council has been working on for the past year or so began to unroll in January with two land purchases and a survey of another land parcel for what could be the first park in more than three decades.
Councilman Mike Brashear said the efforts are a rededication to quality of life.
Its one of the things in the city that has just been overlooked for so many years, Brashear said. Unfortunately, when budget crunch time comes, its easier to cut recreation than things like infrastructure.
It was clear last year that recreation could soon become a priority, with a recreation master plan completed and about $7.8 million budgeted for recreation in the 2012 special purpose local option sales tax.
Warner Robins Mayor Chuck Shaheen has said the recreation department has been neglected over the years. It previously was excluded from the countywide penny sales tax, and recreation Director James Dodson was not part of city decisions regarding his own department.
Now, we feel like its time for us to bring recreation up to where it should be for our citizens, Brashear said, saying Dodson has been a wonder to work with in making plans for the citys public recreation.
A study City Council solicited from the Middle Georgia Regional Commission -- the first of its kind, author Courtney Verdier said -- gives an overview of existing recreation facilities and opportunities in the city and provides a five-year improvement plan.
Recreation is a leading factor contributing to quality of life, Verdier wrote. Individuals and families tend to relocate themselves to communities with a high quality of life and where they can be involved in community.
The study, completed in October, found facilities are clustered around City Hall on the eastern end of the city; noted some aging equipment at two of the existing 16 parks; and showed a lack of self-use activities outside of basketball courts and baseball fields.
Now were looking to update that plan and put it to work, Brashear said.
Shaheen, in response to a request for comment for this story, wrote in an e-mail: So that we have one voice and one vision, we will discuss the future of our recreation facilities at our work session. Until then, it is a work in progress.
In a follow-up e-mail asking when the work session is, he said, Details to follow.
The first project on the table could be a multi-use park that incorporates several findings from the Middle Georgia Regional Commission study.
The hope is mid-year, to begin turning dirt, Brashear said.
It would be the first new park since Peavy Park, which Dodson said was built in the 1970s. The 33 acres, where a landfill closed about 40 years ago, is located on Corder Road near South Houston Lake Road
The city already owns the property, and because of that, its a low-cost investment for the city to get a park down there, Brashear said.
Brashear estimated the full park would cost about $400,000 to get going, almost half of the original $765,000 estimate Dodson gave council in December.
The councilman said proposals that have come in are a lot lower than expected.
City Council has had multiple presentations since 2012 from Perry-based Ocmulgee Inc. -- a surveying, planning, consulting and engineering firm -- showing plans for a multi-use park that would include a skate park, two dog parks, a disc golf course, a biking trail and BMX track.
Kids have really been pushing a skate park, Brashear said. And there are a number of things that came through the community meeting, and were trying to incorporate as many ideas as we can.
At a December meeting, Chad Bryant, owner of Ocmulgee Inc., said research found the old landfill has no history of recognizable contamination. He proposed another round of testing to comfort residents.
At its Jan. 22 meeting, City Council gave the go-ahead for a boundary and topographic survey at the site.
Getting the funds
Brashear said the recreation overhaul was kick-started by $1.4 million left over in the Parks and Recreation fund.
The Corder Road project will come out of the funds, as well as two recent land purchases of Walkers Pond for $75,000 and 64.9 acres at North Houston and Elberta roads for $850,000.
City Attorney Jim Elliott said closing on both purchases should be no later than April 1.
Plans for neither piece of land are complete.
Councilman Mike Davis, who represents the district where both projects will locate, briefly said Walkers Pond will include upgrades to allow families to relax.
Over at North Houston and Elberta roads, Dodson told his advisory committee last month he would like to build six adult softball fields, which could possibly be used for tournaments.
That way we can generate some money for not only the city but with the tourism, he said. Dodson did not return calls for comment.
He also noted to his committee that there are about 14 acres of wetlands on the property.
We can have some nice nature-viewing areas, Dodson said.
A 2012 draft of land also shows a picnic area and tennis courts.
Brashear said the Elberta project and other recreation upgrades may have to wait until the city has a better idea of whether the 2012 SPLOST will produce the needed funds, but residents should know City Council is dedicated to making the plans a reality as soon as possible.
The Corder Road project, we can do with existing funds, he said. Walkers Pond, we can do with existing funds. Those are things that we can get under way without looking at the new SPLOST money.
To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.
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