WR sports complex could be completed this summer

WARNER ROBINS — Mayor Donald Walker understands the importance of sports to the city, particularly ones that involve bats and balls.

“Each year, we have a bigger and bigger need,” Walker said. “There’s been a demand for it for some time.”

To help meet that need, the city is in the middle of building a sports complex on 44 acres of land behind Huntington Middle School. The plan calls for a development that features eight fields for baseball and softball, a football field and tennis courts.

City leaders put the overall project cost at about $5.2 million, and the City Council already has set aside $2 million of that money. Walker said the complex eventually will be outfitted with concession stands, restrooms and other amenities.

The remaining cost could be covered, Walker said, with federal economic stimulus money (the city asked for $12 million) or hotel/motel tax revenue.

Two years in the making, the project could be completed this summer.

Joe Musselwhite, the city’s public works director, said the city has been working on converting the area from woods to a sports complex since July 2007. The city has borrowed equipment and labor from Houston County to grade the land.

Add in grass, fences and bases, Musselwhite said, and “you will have a really nice field.”

Walker said he’s optimistic the complex could be finished in a matter of months, perhaps by the end of July.

As for who will operate the facility, Walker said that’s still up in the air. The Warner Robins Convention & Visitors Bureau or the city’s recreation department could operate it, he said, or a new authority could be created for oversight.

Martha Ann Lumpkin, the city’s athletics director, said Warner Robins needs upgraded recreation facilities because the current ones are old and often have to serve more than one purpose.

“One day, it’s a football field,” Lumpkin said. “The next day, it’s a softball field.”

Lumpkin said the demand is high. The city’s recreation department boasts 900 children in its football and cheerleading programs.

The adult softball program has 75 to 80 teams in the spring and 50 teams in the fall.

The recreation department has 70 youth baseball and softball teams.

“There’s a lot of activity in Warner Robins when it comes to sports,” Lumpkin said.

Walker also is counting on activity outside Warner Robins to attract revenue dollars for the fields. He plans to open them up to sports enthusiasts around Georgia who are looking for facilities to hold tournaments and games.

“These people love to play softball,” Walker said.

To contact writer Natasha Smith, call 923-3109, extension 236.