WARNER ROBINS — After decades of neglect, recreation is getting a closer look from city leaders.
A recently completed draft of a strategic recreation facility improvement plan calls for $82 million in upgrades, including the creation of more passive parks across the city.
The report details a 10-year plan that includes short-term, mid-term and long-term projects. About $31.9 million in renovations is proposed in the plan for 14 existing parks over a 24-month period.
“I think (the report) was well worth the investment ... because you don’t know where you are and where you need to go until you get that done,” Mayor Randy Toms said. “It’s really going to be a long-term costly process to bring us up where we need to be.”
The council agreed in January to pay Lawrenceville-based Lose & Associates up to $62,250 to develop the plan with the city’s Recreation Department.
Each of the city’s 17 parks and recreational facilities was evaluated in the plan, which includes recommendations for undeveloped city-owned land.
The $82 million price tag includes construction, maintenance and personnel as well as rehabilitating existing parks with upgrades such as improved lighting, paving, new equipment and erosion control.
A public meeting and an online survey of 397 people earlier this year played a part in identifying citywide recreational needs.
The core of the city was determined to be the best-served area as Peavy and Tanner parks offer “the most diverse of active recreational activities but lack in the areas of passive opportunities,” according to the draft report.
The east side of town has a “scattering of neighborhood and mini parks that have some of the same offerings of those that are found in the large community parks,” according to the report. The council is considering developing four properties for recreation in the area. But even with those additions, opportunities would still be limited in the area, according to the report.
The south and west sides of town were identified as “severely underserved by parks and open space,” according to the report. The report recommends that the city study the area to figure out ways to balance the network of park offerings across the city.
Toms said he was most surprised to learn that “a lot of people don’t know how many parks we have in this city and where some of them are.”
While the needs are clear, how improvements will be paid for is still uncertain.
“I think we need to look at the overall big picture and then decide as a community what we want our investment to mean in the future,” Toms said. “I think over time we can get there, but I’m not looking at investing or finding funding for $82 million worth of stuff in the next couple of years.”
A special local option sales tax, a general obligation bond, grants and user fees are all options recommended in the plan to fund the improvements.
Repeated attempts to reach Recreation Director James Dodson for comment were unsuccessful.
REC CENTERS, WALKER’S POND
At least one council member supports increasing the number of recreation centers in the city.
The Claude M. Lewis Recreation Center beside City Hall was built in 1964 when Warner Robins had a population between 15,000 and 18,000, said City Councilman Tim Thomas.
“It’s 2015, fixing to be 2016, and we have 74,000 people in Warner Robins using the same rec (center) that was built basically for 18,000 to 25,000 people,” Thomas said. “The county does not provide recreation ... and Centerville doesn’t have recreation so we’re probably serving 120,000 people.”
The building has electrical and plumbing issues, Thomas said.
Council members have long talked about building a large recreation complex on a 63-acre lot behind the Fred’s store near North Houston Road and Elberta Road, but no solid plans have been made.
However, the report recommends 10 ball fields, 12 tennis courts and a pro shop for the 63 acres in the north part of town represented by City Councilman Mike Davis.
“My vision is to build a recreation center with at least two basketball courts,” Davis said. “Right now we have one, but it might as well be zero because it’s so small. ... We need a couple of facilities in town.”
Toms said the city will definitely build something on the property in Davis’ district, but it may not be the massive sports complex envisioned in the past.
“I’m having some discussions now about possibly scaling that back and moving part of that over to the other side of town so we can make those kinds of environments accessible for all parts of town,” Toms said.
Other undeveloped city-owned properties include a 37-acre lot on Olympia Drive and a 32-acre lot at the old landfill site on Springwood Drive.
Walker’s Pond, a 26-acre lot off Lakeview Terrace Road, is also listed as an undeveloped property. Work on clearing the area for development was stalled earlier this year for several months, but Davis said progress has resumed. A walking track, parking lot and boardwalk are planned for the park, he said.
“We’re so close to really taking off, and I really believe with all my heart that we’re really close to some great things happening,” Davis said. “I know there’s a lot of ‘me’ people that want it now, but it doesn’t happen that way.”
Toms said he expects the draft report will be formally presented at the council’s Oct. 19 meeting. There will be another opportunity for public input before the plan is finalized, but Toms said he’s waiting to hear back from Lose & Associates about when it will be.
“I’m wanting to push this thing forward,” the mayor said. “We’ve been waiting on this study. The study is back and almost completed, and I’m ready to get going. ... It’s taken a long time to get the dominoes lined up and to get things in a row, but now I think we’re ready to start moving forward with projects.”
To contact writer Laura Corley, call 744-4334 or follow her on Twitter @Lauraecor.