After spending millions on recreation, Macon-Bibb plans for the future

Work continues on the South Macon-Bibb Recreation Center, where construction should be complete by this fall.
Work continues on the South Macon-Bibb Recreation Center, where construction should be complete by this fall. jvorhees@macon.com

As construction winds down on the $7.6 million South Macon-Bibb County Recreation Center, the county is gearing up for more projects while putting the finishing touches on a new decade-long recreation plan.

The Macon-Bibb County Parks and Recreation Department is in the process of updating a 10-year comprehensive plan that will feature some of the feedback gathered from community meetings and online surveys about improvements that residents want to see over the next decade. The future of recreation in Macon-Bibb also includes millions of dollars being poured into construction projects in the upcoming years.

The community meetings held in May yielded a bevy of suggestions from the public, Parks and Recreation Director Reggie Moore said.

People at a meeting at Rutland High School suggested early morning fitness classes. The west Bibb community of Lizella expressed the desire for bike lanes, a walking trail and a community center for art classes and other programs.

“It’s more of a comprehensive study that looks at recreational needs and tries to determine what the community wants,” Moore said. “I know we’ve identified projects for the next round of SPLOST, but this is taking it a step further and saying what new programs would like you like see, what other projects would you want, what hours of operations would you like to have.”

He added, “It’s gives you a good road map of what you’re doing right and what you need to improve on and what you haven’t even touched the surface of.”

Wrapping up the 2012 SPLOST

There are several projects coming down the pike as the 2012 special purpose sales tax projects wind down.

Plans are being made for a groundbreaking at Freedom Park, where new softball fields will highlight the improvements.

Construction on the new south Bibb recreation center, which started in 2016, is expected to be finished by early fall. And the county is close to finalizing a contract for the long-anticipated senior center that will be located in Central City Park.

“We’re hoping in the next two weeks to have a resolution in commissioners’ hands to approve a contract,” Moore said.

Also, the county is working toward a new Lizella recreation facility, and a groundbreaking was held in May for upgrades to Henry Burns Park at Ingleside and Ridge avenues. Details on Mattie Hubbard Jones Park improvements — which, like Henry Burns, is a combination of sales tax and blight bond money — are also being put together, Moore said.

Another wave of projects with a new $280 million SPLOST has been approved by commissioners.

Commissioners have begun agreeing to use a portion of $35 million in SPLOST bond proceeds on various projects that include:

▪  Freedom Park: $384,568 for phase 2 engineering and design work;

▪  Central City Park: $1.2 million for phase 2;

▪  Frank Johnson Recreation: $46,970 for new gymnasium floor;

▪  Bowden Golf Course: $340,000;

▪  South Macon-Bibb Recreation Center: $1.9 million for phase 2;

▪  Bloomfield/Gilead Parks and Recreation: $822,994;

▪  Delores A. Brooks Park (formerly East Macon Park): $961,000 for second phase of improvements.

More visitors

The improvements already made have led to increased attendance at recreation facilities.

For example, following the Rosa Jackson Community Center’s $3.4 million expansion, the facility has averaged about 200 more daily visitors. There were 75 to 100 people coming through each weekday before the upgrades were made at the 1211 Maynard St. center, Moore said.

And a Zumba fitness program for children and adults at Memorial Gym is growing as well, he said.

“There used to be a time you could ride by Rosa Jackson and find a parking space,” he said. “Now you ride by any time of the day and there’s a constant number of cars in the parking lot.”

Once the final 2012 SPLOST projects are completed, there will be nearly $40 million spent on recreation in Macon-Bibb.

Collections begin in April 2018 on the $280 million SPLOST, of which $43.5 million is dedicated to recreation projects.

A SPLOST timeline has been created for the next round of projects, although commissioners have the ability to move the timetable for projects.

“The commissioners have been very open to working on very clear defined path, which from my perspective makes life easier,” Macon-Bibb SPLOST manager Clay Murphey said.

There’s also a balancing act when deciding when each of the projects can start “to have enough projects to stay busy but also not enough to be upside down with revenues and expenses,” he said.

There also is a need not to stretch local contractors too thin so that you limit the companies that could bid on the projects, Murphey said.

“If we manage how much we put out there at one time, we get something like the senior center, which was nine or 10 bids,” he said. “Doing it the way we’re doing it keeps it very competitive, and we end up with the best contractors.”

But with projects like the south Bibb facility and others, Macon-Bibb’s recreation is getting the facelift it sorely needed, Murphey said.

“The weight room facility, the workout facility, showers and bathrooms are like nothing we’ve every seen,” he said of the south Bibb center. “In all fairness, it’s what our taxpayers deserve: crisp, new, modern facilities.”

Stanley Dunlap: 478-744-4623, @stan_telegraph