COVINGTON -- It was a sunny day and there were smiles all around at the groundbreaking for Fairview Community Park on Wednesday morning.
The public park that will be located in Fairview Estates subdivision off Fairview Road was a topic of contention among neighbors early on, but some of those who spoke most passionately against the project have changed their opinions and attended the groundbreaking, including 15-year-old Eastside High School sophomore Wendy Rodriguez.
Rodriguez at one time spoke vehemently against the park, but, after getting more information about the project, she said she now believes it's just what her neighborhood needs. Rodriguez spoke at the groundbreaking at the invitation of Commissioner Nancy Schulz, who represents District 3, where Fairview Estates is located.
After moving to Fairview Estates in 2003, "I always knew something was missing," Rodriguez said. "Now, seven years later, we have found the missing piece of our puzzle. I always dreamed of a park to hang out with my friends or go for a walk but it was scary here. There were people in the street and they might be strangers."
Rodriguez said she will now have a safe place to play with her younger sister.
"Now I know this is a place kids can come instead of being in the street without getting run over or maybe taken. Now there's somewhere they can go to be watched," she said.
Schulz said she was gratified that the project has brought the neighborhood together, noting that when she was campaigning, many residents were afraid to answer their doors.
"I talked with my campaign workers and we said no one should feel threatened for anyone to come to their home on Saturday morning," she said. Now, she noted, one resident remarked at a recent Board of
Commissioners meeting that, "This project has allowed us to feel like we can knock on our neighbor's door and borrow a cup of sugar."
The park is being funded by federal stimulus money as part of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Newton County is the first in the state to use NSP money for a public project, according to Glenn Misner, with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. Misner said local leaders "are to be applauded for their vision."
"They say it takes a village to raise a child but it takes a green space or a park to make a village," he said.
BOC Chairman Kathy Morgan acknowledged it was a "wild idea" to put a public park in a neighborhood, and at first, officials weren't sure they could use NSP money for that purpose. But after taking office, she found out Newton County has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country and set about to improve that. When the NSP program came along, she said, in addition to rehabilitating and reselling foreclosed homes, she thought a park would help build a sense of community.
"One of the greatest amenities a community can have is a park to bring people together," she said.
The park will be mostly passive green space and include a walking trail, playground, pavilion and park benches. It will be maintained by the Newton County Recreation Commission.
"This is a historical day for parks here in partnership with neighborhoods," said Recreation Commission Director Tommy Hailey. "This park will play an integral part in the revitalization of this neighborhood."
The event was emceed by CNN financial analyst Clyde Anderson, who said the park will be a model for other communities throughout the country.
Scott Sirotkin, director of the Newton County Department of Development Services, who spearheaded the project for the county, said with all the guidelines and regulations governing NSP, and the hurdles to making the project a reality, "Sometimes it was hard to imagine this day was going to happen. It gives me great pleasure to be here today for the installation of this park ... I really hope the residents of this community enjoy this park for many, many years to come."
Project Manager Debbie Bell said construction is expected to be completed in February.