WARNER ROBINS — Golden-tipped shovels were used to lift dirt from a square patch of flowerless day lilies on the front lawn of City Hall in a Monday morning groundbreaking ceremony marking the start of multimillion dollar renovations and construction of a veterans park.
"This is a big deal," Mayor Randy Toms said to a couple dozen people gathered. "This building was built in the early '70s and other than quite a bit of money being spend on it over the last 40 years, not a whole lot's been done."
City Council voted 5-1 two weeks ago to hire Warren Associates Inc. to handle the renovations and construction of the park, which together total $4.11 million to be paid for using special purpose local option sales tax voters approved in 2012.
The veterans park, estimated to cost $600,000, "is going to be used for more things than we could possibly imagine," Toms said, adding there are plans to use the park for community events.
The park will be "an environment that lets our community know how much we appreciate Robins Air Force Base ... (and) every veteran that has ever served our country," Toms said. It's "a part of what we're going to do in this city to honor our veterans with much more to come."
Seated in the small crowd was Terry Zimmerman, 64, who retired from active duty with the mobility unit at Robins Air Force Base. Zimmerman said he learned of the veterans park plans from a friend.
"It's great to see the community supporting veterans," Zimmerman said. "I guess one of the next things is going to be the Civic Center. It really needs to be (renovated), because it's not handicap accessible. ... I've been coming here for 20 some years, and it's long overdue."
Warren Selby Jr., president and chief executive officer of the construction company, said renovations to City Hall will be completed in five phases beginning with the former building inspections department.
"As you come through City Hall over the next 12 to 13 months ... you're going to see some changes. There will be a few inconveniences for you," Selby said. "When the end result comes, we believe you'll be very pleased with the project."
Among those elected officials present were Councilwoman Carolyn Robbins, Councilman Mike Davis and Houston County Commissioner Tom McMichael.
Robbins looked at the building before turning her eyes to the square patch of stringy green day lilies.
"This is the way it looked in 1972," Robbins said. "I'm so excited for this (garden) to come up."
Davis said he's excited about getting another project started.
"This is action," Davis said of the work beginning. "This is something that's going to be visible. ... You'll be able to see the changes as (work on City Hall) develops."