Bibb’s SPLOST recreation projects moving forward

pramati@macon.comNovember 6, 2013 

TattnallTennis

A construction crew moves dirt while preparing to replace the tennis courts at Tattnall Square Park on Oct. 30.

JASON VORHEES — jvorhees@macon.com Buy Photo

Last week, workers hauled 100 truckloads of dirt from Tattnall Square Park to the Macon landfill.

New foundations for most of the park’s tennis courts were necessary because the original, decades-old foundations weren’t designed correctly. After the new foundations have been put in, a new surface will be poured for the park’s 10 new courts.

The tennis court work is representative of many of the recreation improvement projects the county is undertaking: Beyond the superficial cracks of the facilities, there’s a rotting core of a foundation that has gone unaddressed for too long.

“There’s a lot of deferred maintenance that needs to be done,” said Len Hindsman, who oversees the special purpose local option sales tax for the county. “It’s maintenance that should have been done a long time ago.”

Bibb County voters approved a $190 million SPLOST in 2011, and nearly $39 million is dedicated to recreation-related projects.

However, residents won’t see many visible changes when the work is finished over the next six years. Instead, most of the recreation projects from the SPLOST are for infrastructure repairs at the county’s aging facilities. Officials refer to the necessary repairs as deferred maintenance -- changes that should have been made years ago but were put off by Macon or Bibb County because of a lack of funding.

Perhaps the most notable example is the county’s six swimming pools, which Bibb acquired from the city last year as part of the Service Delivery Strategy. Three of the pools had maintenance issues that prevented them from opening this past summer. SPLOST money is being used to complete the work.

Members of Macon’s City Council demanded that the county complete the work on the pools and open them, while county leaders countered that the pools had degraded under the city’s watch, and too much work was needed to be done to get them ready to open for the summer. Officials said work is currently close to be completed on the three pools.

All of the recreation projects covered by the SPLOST are currently in various stages of progress, ranging from bids being put out for some projects to other projects being at or near completion. Since the county collects the penny tax on a monthly basis, some projects can’t begin until enough funds are taken in.

Hindsman said much of the recreation work will have to be done in stages. The county will have to make the necessary repairs and upgrades to facilities before figuring out new programming and activities at the recreation centers.

“It has to be done in a timed manner,” Hindsman said. “The deferred maintenance needed to be done a long time ago. Right now, we’re playing catch-up.”

For example, Hindsman said, roof repairs at the rec centers need to be completed first before gym floors can be replaced. Once the new floors are in, then workers can add bleachers, basketball goals and air conditioning. The centers also are being fitted with new security systems, including cameras and new doors. All of the county’s recreational fields and gyms that need them will be getting new scoreboards because of the SPLOST, he said. That work will be done by March.

“I feel like we’re moving along at a good pace,” Hindsman said.

Recreation master plan

Meanwhile, county officials hope to have a recreation master plan completed before the end of the year, before the city and county merge into one government.

“We’re still putting together the master plan,” Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said. “We have a grand opportunity to have something that fits (the whole county). It would be more than just recreation. It’s more of a wellness concept. We want more than places where you just bounce basketballs or hit baseballs. We want to do some other kinds of things as well -- programs like nutrition, cooking, other kinds of things.”

Hart said the plan eventually would allow for each of the county’s rec centers to offer specialized classes ranging from science and robotics classes for youth to cultural activities for everyone.

Bibb County Parks & Recreation Director Dale “Doc” Dougherty compared the progress he hopes to see in Macon to that of Columbus, which began its master plan to create softball facilities for the 1996 Olympic Games and used subsequent SPLOST money to add other amenities in later years, such as an indoor swimming center.

Dougherty hopes Macon’s recreation facilities will follow a similar trajectory, but he recognizes it will likely have to occur over the life of several SPLOSTs.

“A lot of this first SPLOST is infrastructure, the stuff people don’t see,” he said. “It’s the second and third SPLOSTs where you see the new amenities. Right now, it’s just getting our parks back into shape.”

Dougherty and Hindsman both noted that often when infrastructure work is set to begin, the aging facilities present more problems than officials know about. For example, the Bloomfield Recreation Center swimming pool, which was closed for the summer, needed work done to its gutter system in addition to the other necessary repairs.

The master plan has undergone several changes and still hasn’t been finalized. Originally scheduled to be presented to county officials over the summer, it eventually was presented in September, then given to the Parks & Recreation department to make changes. Peggy Thompson, whose firm ZT3 Placemaker Studio was hired by the county to put the plan together, said she expects to present the final draft to commissioners before they leave office at the end of the year.

The draft of the plan includes a list of 19 goals that includes more trails, new multi-purpose fields and a specific Parks & Recreation police force. The plan would cover the six-year life of the current SPLOST but also serve as a long-range plan for the next decade.

The proposed plan also gave 10 recommendations for the new government to follow, which include engaging in partnerships with youth-oriented community programs, creating fee-based classes and programs for Bibb County residents, and marketing some of the county’s natural attractions -- such as Lake Tobesofkee -- to make it a regional draw.

“I think (creating the plan) is a very fluid process,” she said. “But given that, things are moving along.”

Thompson said given that the money in the current SPLOST is earmarked for specific projects, mostly involving rehabilitation of current facilities, many of the ideas in the plan would have to begin with a future SPLOST.

“We need to make sure we are good stewards of the SPLOST money,” she said. “If the community says we’ve done such a great job, they’ll support another SPLOST, hopefully. (The plan) is about where we want to be in 10 years, in 20 years.”

Some of those who use the parks and recreation centers said that while they want to see additional things done to the county’s facilities, they also understand there’s only so much SPLOST money to go around.

Andrew Silver, chairman of Friends of Tattnall Square Park, noted that the only work being done to the park in this SPLOST is the renovation of the tennis courts. The tennis center’s building won’t get improvements from SPLOST money, nor will any other part of the park.

“(Tattnall Square Park) is one of the parts (of the recreation SPLOST) that is getting the least amount of money,” he said. “If you take out the tennis (renovations), it would be zero dollars. ... Any area (of the park) that isn’t tennis received nothing. We’re receiving private funding, but there’s only so much that can do. The recreation fields are used constantly and has lots of patches. It needs new turf. The playground is the most-used feature, but nothing has been done to it in years.”

Silver said he hopes residents and people who regularly use recreation facilities will be able to give more input to the new master plan to address these needs for a future SPLOST. Thompson said her firm only received 245 surveys from the public -- just 0.14 percent of Bibb County’s population. It wasn’t clear if an additional survey would be conducted.

Silver said he thinks public feedback could be invaluable.

“They need to understand the usage of the parks, then come up with a master plan,” he said. “A SPLOST can be very helpful, and I do hope we play a role in shaping the next SPLOST. Macon has been in decay since the 1970s, so there are a lot of fires to put out. It’s difficult to be critical when you can only stretch a dollar so far. I look forward to working with the new government to redo the entire parks system.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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