Warner Robins has made some big strides in recreation in recent months, but the initiative could be catapulted forward on Monday.
The City Council will consider approving a road map on how to spend $20 million in sales tax dollars slated for recreation improvement. The city already has a construction manager, architect and engineering company hired, but they haven’t been told yet how to proceed.
Councilman Tim Thomas said he hopes that will change at Monday’s meeting. He advocates an option that scales back a previous plan for a seven-ball-field sports complex on Houston Road at Elberta Road.
Thomas said that based on his discussions with Jarred Reneau, the city’s recreation director, he doesn’t think the city needs any new baseball fields, which are projected to cost $1 million each when including the cost of parking, lights and other needed facilities.
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Thomas supports a plan that calls for spending $14 million at the Houston Road site, which would include a large gymnasium with four full-sized basketball courts under one roof, a senior citizens center with an indoor walking track, and an outdoor walking track, but no ball fields.
The plan also calls for renovating five baseball fields at Simpson Park, building a new recreation department headquarters at Memorial Park, and basketball gyms at Deloris Tolliver Park and Tanner Park. Tanner Park would also become a football complex.
“I think it’s a priority list that makes sense,” Thomas said. “There’s never been a solid vote on this.”
He and Councilman Mike Davis had a lively debate on recreation priorities at the last council meeting. Davis said recently that he continues to support having seven ball fields at the Houston Road tract. Davis said he supports all of the other recreation improvements as well, including the new gyms. He said he would favor the city’s spending as much as $32 million to build the ball fields and all the other recreational improvements that it wants.
He said with the ball fields at Houston Road, the city could host travel ball tournaments that would bring money into the city. He said it’s what the council promised it would do when the 65-acre tract was purchased.
“We’ve told people we were going to build a complex, and I firmly believe that’s what we need to do,” he said.
Davis said it would also generate revenue to help pay back the money the city would borrow over the amount it is getting from sales tax proceeds. He said there are also other sources of revenue that would pay back that money.
Thomas has said he only wants to borrow the amount the city is getting from the special purpose sales tax. The city would borrow money to start the projects immediately, then pay back as the sales tax is collected.
Reneau said he will give his priorities to the council Monday, and his top priority is more basketball gyms. The city now uses school gyms, which have limited hours and availability. As a result, the city has a waiting list for people to participate in its youth and adult basketball programs. Additionally, the city gyms could remain open for use daily when league play is not taking place.
“I want to be self-sustaining,” he said. “I want us to be able to run our own programs.”
Reneau said it will be up to the council to decide the priorities, but he hopes a decision is made one way or the other Monday so that work can begin on new facilities.
“This has been going on for seven years,” Reneau said. “I think the months since I’ve been here this is the farthest the city of Warner Robins has gotten. We are basically inches away from the start line, and that’s exciting.”
The decision on how to spend the SPLOST money comes as the city has already made other improvements this year. Walker’s Pond recently opened as a park and has proven popular, and the city expects to soon open Wellston Park, a large, passive park with the city’s first dog park.