WARNER ROBINS — Several members of a group established to suggest ways to improve the city’s recreation offerings say before ground is broken for new city parks, attention should be paid to what already exists.
Among the issues the recently established Recreation Advisory Board has mentioned are improving general groundskeeping, finding ways to purchase additional playground equipment and finally reopening the pool at Sewell Circle Park after a two-year hiatus.
Recreation department director James Dodson recruited people from all walks of life as it pertains to sports in Warner Robins to sift through everyone’s concerns and begin doing what is best for the city facilities. With a new mayor who has promised money will be funneled into the department, Dodson said, some changes will happen.
“The rec department is going to be one of the areas that really get some attention,” said Dodson, who has been running the department since 1990.
The attention is long overdue, said Claude Lewis, who ran the city’s recreation nearly 30 years before he retired in 1986. At the time, Lewis said, the parks were the best in the state. A department maintenance crew did daily upkeep and the occasional paint job. Since then, the maintenance crew has fallen under the purview of the city’s public works department. Lewis said they don’t frequent the parks like they used to, only occasionally cutting grass and painting.
“Our parks are in terrible condition,” Lewis said. “When you’re in charge of all the parks and all the pools and all of the buildings, you’ve got to have a maintenance crew. I had a great maintenance crew. We kept the parks up. The city needs to give him (Dodson) his maintenance crew back if they’re going to hold him responsible for the repair of the parks. And they’re in dire need of repair.
“If we don’t do something, we’re going to lose all of them.”
Chris LeShoure, at 22 the youngest member of the advisory board, said he’s been encouraged by the work being done on the Sewell Circle Park Pool. Construction on the pool, which includes taking it from 9 feet to 6 feet at its deepest point, is scheduled to be finished in time for the pool to open at the end of the month.
But, he said, he admits more work can be done for the city’s recreation system as a whole.
“There’s a minimum standard that our parks should be held to,” said Warner Robins resident LeShoure, a senior business management student at Fort Valley State University. “There are some that are better than others. Some with a considerable amount of work to do, like picking up trash. Yes, we need some new parks, but we need to take care of the ones we have first.”
He said that care and concern for the parks should come from those who live in the city, too.
“My community is pretty much whether or not I decide to do anything,” he said. “We all have this sense of ownership, so I kind of felt slightly responsible because this is something that’s been ongoing. We’ve let our participation go by the wayside. The community needs to be more aware.
“Right now, you can tell they’re not proud of (the parks).”
The parks are vital to the development of the children in the city, Lewis said, mentioning that Mayor Chuck Shaheen and several councilmen grew up playing sports in city programs.
“They know what recreation in Warner Robins used to be,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for the recreation department, they probably wouldn’t be where they are today. I realize the economy is terrible and we can’t just reach up and pull money out of the air. But they need to at least give the rec their share to repair the parks … and build more parks.”