Oak Hill area to get park

COVINGTON - Residents of District 2 will soon have a park of their own.

Plans are under way for Denny Dobbs Park at Oak Hill, a project being undertaken by the Newton County Recreation Commission and the first of its kind in the district.

The park will be situated on 53 acres at Richards Chapel Road and Ga. Highway 212.

The first phase of the park, which will occupy about 20 acres, will include two basketball courts, a large playground, multi-use trails, a tot lot, a practice field, an open lawn area for pickup games and four small pavilions.

The park will also include an electronic outdoor game called NEOS that features flashing lights, music and sound effects. Players run back and forth to race against the clock and each other to slap the blinking lights.

Phase 1 will cost $1.7 million to construct, plus a maximum of $300,000 in architect fees, bringing the total project budget to $2 million.

The park will be one of the first projects to benefit from impact fees, one-time charges levied against developers to pay for the burden of new growth on infrastructure. The county has collected more than $6.5 million since impact fees were implemented in 2005 but has yet to spend the money due to pending litigation with local and state home builders associations. The lawsuit was dismissed in Newton County Superior Court on Monday.

The Board of Commissioners has already approved the design concept for the park. The next steps are preparation of construction documents and the hiring of a contractor, said Recreation Commission Director Tommy Hailey.

Currently, the only public recreation area in District 2 is a picnic pavilion behind Fire Station No. 14, he said.

"They've been underserved for years. I praise Commissioner (Earnest) Simmons for taking the initiative to go ahead and push this thing through," Hailey said.

The park will be named for Denny Dobbs, a former state representative who served on the Recreation Commission in the 1970s. Dobbs helped the commission obtain numerous grants, Hailey said.

"I tried to help them where I could. I really appreciate them doing it," Dobbs said of the honor. "I don't know if I did enough to deserve it, but I'm certainly happy they thought enough of me to do it."

Hailey said he hopes Phase 1 will be at least partially completed by fall of 2008, with additional phases to be completed as money becomes available.

Hailey said there is a need for more parks throughout the county, and the Recreation Commission has plans to build a similar park in District 1, along with a sports complex, and also to continue to upgrade existing parks.

"We've still got our hands tied at doing anything inside the city until they come on board with impact fees," Hailey said.

None of the county's five municipalities have joined in the county's impact fee program, which will fund recreation and parks, a new branch library and transportation projects.

In other news, commissioners approved a $345,000 contract with Design Build Consortium out of Warner Robins to design and construct a community center in District 4.

The center will be located on Laster Street in the Green Acres neighborhood. The project was initiated by District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson, who said he hopes it will serve as a community gathering spot and provide a safe place for children to study and play.

The land, approximately 8 acres, and building are being paid for through $500,000 in special purpose local option sales tax revenues.

The building will include a meeting room for 75 to 100 people, a catering kitchen, restrooms, a 200-square-foot office and storage space.

The Covington City Council has agreed to donate .48 acres and give $21,000 worth of in-kind services to the project.

The property donated by the city is at the intersection of Laster and Puckett streets and could be used in the future for a pavilion and basketball court, which are not included in the current budget, according to Cheryl Delk, special projects coordinator for Newton County.

The city also agreed to give $21,000 in in-kind services related to the extension of a waterline, installation of a water meter vault, a water meter and fire hydrant, including the cost of labor and materials.

Eventually, Henderson said he would like to have ball fields and a tot lot with play equipment and picnic tables at the site. Those associated costs are also not included in the current budget. He is also looking into programming options, he said.

Henderson said he would like to see the site used for recreational purposes and an after school program, similar to what is offered at Washington Street Community Center on School Street, also in District 4.

The project should be completed by July, according to Tina McDonald Malone, the county's purchasing director.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.