Politics & Government

Macon-Bibb leaders to vote on major renovations of recreation centers

Neighborhood youth play a game of basketball at Rosa Jackson Center in August during a free play period at the center.
Neighborhood youth play a game of basketball at Rosa Jackson Center in August during a free play period at the center. jvorhees@macon.com

Transformations of eight Macon-Bibb County parks and recreation centers could be underway within the next year.

The Macon-Bibb County Commission will vote Tuesday on three master plans and resolutions to spend $4.25 million on renovations at Freedom Park and East Macon Park, as well as for a Gilead-Bloomfield Complex that will feature a science and math center. If approved, that will mean a total of more than $22 million will have been approved for the earliest rounds of improvements at eight parks and community centers.

Discussions on the projects trace back prior to 2011 when residents voted in favor of a special purpose local option sales tax that would be used to pay for the renovations. A future SPLOST will be needed to finish the long-term master plans at many of those recreation centers.

The changes will be dramatic at many of the facilities, said Clay Murphey, SPLOST project manager.

“We’ll have eight recreation projects going at one time, which is pretty exciting,” he said. “They are going to be visibly different from what they are now. Some haven’t had anything except maintenance done in 40 years.”

A series of community meetings involving architects, county leaders and a SPLOST committee offered the public a chance to describe the features they wanted at the parks and recreation centers.

“Your hope is since the community had a lot of buy-in, then you’ll get a lot of participation from them later because they had some say in what happens,” said Reggie Moore, interim director of the Macon-Bibb County Recreation Department.

One of the parks that received a lot of input was Freedom Park, which could get $2.9 million that would pay for connecting a walking trail, moving softball and baseball fields, improving a road and more.

Commissioners requested a water feature at the park so a splash pad -- a recess area with waterfalls and fountains -- will be built for $250,000. Splash pads are a cheaper alternative to renovating the swimming pool there for $800,000 to $1 million, Murphey said.

There also are safety risks to be addressed with Georgia Power transmission lines and a road that runs through part of the park.

“One of the things we kept hearing from the community is ‘safety is critical’ and ‘we’ve got a road going right through the middle of four ball fields,’” Murphey said.

Chuck Tidwell, president of the Freedom Park Softball Association, said a meeting about the park this summer drew about 100 people, many of them from the softball and baseball leagues that use the park.

“The boys baseball had came up with their game plan, and we came up with ours,” Tidwell said. “Our fields, we were always crunched together.”

The final plan presented by Macon-Bibb incorporates most of what the softball and baseball leagues wanted at Freedom Park. That includes the eventual creation of a baseball field hub and a separate hub for softball.

“What we had put together as girls softball was pretty much intact,” Tidwell said. “Overall, I’ve been well pleased.”

Another site that will undergo major changes is the former Gilead Christian Academy, which is adjacent to Bloomfield Park. Gilead will become a cultural arts center with areas for theater and music. Also an educational facility for Science Technology Engineering Mathematics, or STEM, will come to fruition, while multi-purpose ball fields will be added.

There is $1.1 million in SPLOST money to pay for the STEM facility, parking improvements and repairs.

At the East Macon Recreation Center, there could be $250,000 of work to renovate a concession stand, build a T-ball field and repair sidewalks.

THE FIRST FIVE MAKE PROGRESS

The five recreation master plans approved in July are a couple months ahead of schedule with engineering work, Murphey said.

Renovations at the Frank Johnson Center as well as the Rosa Jackson and Memorial Park community centers are targeted to start in November. The goal is also for construction of a Sub-South Recreation Center and improvements to Central City Park to begin before 2016, Murphey said.

In July, commissioners approved an initial $18 million for those projects.

The facility that will receive the largest amount of funding will be the new Sub-South Park that will use $7.6 million for plans that include six tennis courts, two multi-purpose fields, a track, basketball gym and an outdoor pool that could be formatted to be indoors in a later phase. The sub-south facility had drawn interest from a tennis community that wanted as many as 24 courts to attract tournaments.

There also will be $3.8 million spent on the Rosa Jackson Community Center, including $800,000 for heating and air conditioning and electrical improvements. The master plans includes building a new gymnasium, kitchen and more.

The Frank Johnson center will receive $903,000 for various repairs. Future phases involve plans for a new gym, walking trail, parking and other features.

A new pool will be among the $1.9 million spent at the Memorial Park Community Center while Central City Park will use about $4.2 million for a track, renovations of two ball fields and other changes.

To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 744-4623 or find him on Twitter @stan_telegraph.

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