Recreation sites across Warner Robins could look radically different in just the next couple of years.
The city is poised to spend more than $30 million to build and upgrade its recreation facilities with money from sales tax revenue as well as bonds that will be repaid over a period of years through the general fund.
The Recreation Department's director, Jarred Reneau, said he hopes each of the five projects will be completed within the next 18 months.
The big-ticket item — roughly estimated to cost about $19 million — will be the new north Houston complex, which will feature four gymnasiums, a walking track, four baseball fields and space for a senior citizens facility.
"By July, August, we should have all of our bid documents back and have some dirt going on everything," Reneau said.
The other planned recreation improvements include:
* Jessie E. Tanner Jr. Park: renovations, with four football fields and track;
* Memorial Park and Pavilion: New athletics and administration offices, new athletic field, green space and possibly a gym;
* Deloris Toliver Park Pavilion: new basketball gym.
Warner Robins is also spending about $300,000 for a new baseball complex at Simpson Park.
City Councilman Keith Lauritsen said so many projects are in the works at one time because the city hasn't spent much money on recreation centers and park improvements in the last 40 years.
A study performed several years ago showed that Warner Robins was about $80 million behind what it should have spent on recreation, he said.
"We're so far behind we're having to take a drastic approach, and we're not caught up to where we needed to be," Lauritsen said. "I believe (recreation is) a lifeblood with our community, having opportunities for our children and adults. "
The city dedicated $5 million for recreation in the 2012 special purpose local option sales tax referendum. Another $15 million will be spent from the 2018 SPLOST revenue proceeds. But by using bond funds, the city will have enough money to get rolling on the projects, as well as other plans such as building a Welcome Center.
"What we will go ahead and do is issue bonds so we can get our hands on all the money we need to do all the projects at one time," Lauritsen said.
The upcoming changes will allow for more programs for residents, and they will also help spur economic development, Reneau and Lauritsen said.
A primary goal is to attract tournaments — including volleyball, basketball and baseball travel teams — where players, coaches and parents will spend their time and money in Warner Robins.
Warner Robins is already at capacity with the number of people participating in various programs offered through the recreation department, but the changes will open up those options, Reneau said.
"Having everything, as much as we can, in one location like football, basketball, baseball complexes will help us logistically, and parents of multiple kids ... will have one location versus having to drive to different sites," Reneau said. "We'll be able to attract people from not only the Atlanta area, but from down south (Georgia) to Florida."
While Warner Robins plays catch-up in upgrading its recreation offerings, neighboring Macon-Bibb County continues to tap sales tax revenue for another round of renovations and expansions to its parks and recreation centers.
Among the highlights: the construction of the $7.6 million new south Bibb County Recreation Center off Houston Road, the expansion of the Rosa Jackson Recreation Center and more than $4 million spent on Central City Park..
After spending more than $40 million on recreation with the 2012 SPLOST, another $43.5 million from the 2018 tax is now budgeted for Macon-Bibb recreation projects over the next 10 years.
The recreation department director said in 2017 that the expansions led to more programs and in some cases doubled the number of people visiting certain recreation centers.