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SPLOST will benefit parks, Miracle Field

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

Editor's Note: This is the first in a multipart series on projects that will be funded if SPLOST 2011 is approved by voters in the March 15 Special Election. The SPLOST is expected to generate $57.6 million over a six-year collection period.

COVINGTON -- Local parks in need of improvement and a baseball field for special-needs children will get a total $2.5 million boost if voters approve SPLOST 2011.

Existing parks will get $1 million in upgrades while the proposed Miracle Field would be funded at $1.5 million.

The field is desperately needed in a community where there are nearly 2,500 special needs children in the local school system, said Tamara Richardson, consultant for Miracle League of Newton County.

Located in City Pond Park, the rubberized turf baseball field will also be used for golf, bowling and other sports. The project will also include playgrounds especially designed for special-needs children, though all children can enjoy them.

"There is no special-needs playground in the community. There are handicap accessible playgrounds," but there's a big difference, Richardson said, recalling a story a mother told her about a visit to a local park. The mother's young son was thrilled that he could roll his wheelchair onto the play area, but once there, he wasn't able to use the equipment.

Two tee league fields will be created on either side of the Miracle Field, for children ages 4 to 6, who are running out of space on the current fields at City Pond. There are currently 104 children in the Recreation Commission's Wee League for 4-year-olds and 230 in the tee league for 5- and 6-year-olds. The new fields will be artificial turf to prevent dirt from running into City Pond.

Richardson said in addition to providing needed additional space for those programs, the fields will ensure that children using the Miracle Fields will interact with other kids.

"We didn't want them to be isolated," she said, adding that the hope is the children will make connections with kids their age and others who can serve as "buddies," helping them bat and make it around the bases.

A plaza will also be constructed and will likely feature the names of donors and supporters of the project, along with concession stands and restrooms.

The Georgia Department of Corrections has made a verbal commitment to provide inmate labor on the project, which could result in a savings of more than 40 percent, Richardson said.

If SPLOST is approved, an additional $500,000 will be required to complete the project, and will likely come in the form of in-kind and monetary donations and grants. Richardson said $125,000 has already been raised.

The land for the project was donated by the city of Covington. The Recreation Commission will maintain and operate the fields and facilities.

Commissioners have also allocated $1 million for improvements to existing parks.

"We're going to have to make the million dollars spread out," said Director Tommy Hailey, noting that the commission requested nearly $2.5 million in upgrades.

If SPLOST is approved, the Recreation Commission will have to decide which projects are top priority, Hailey said, adding that safety concerns will be the first to be addressed.

Hailey said Stone Road Complex, built in 1989, will likely be the top priority as there is fencing in disrepair that is a danger to players. City Pond Park also has fencing in bad condition. The hope was to erect black vinyl fencing but there likely won't be enough money for that, Hailey said.

Restrooms and concession renovations are also needed at City Pond. Hailey said the current facilities are not adequate for the large crowds served by the park. Since the park was built 32 years ago, the number of teams playing there has doubled, from 25 to 50.

Stone Road also needs an upgrade to its irrigation system, as the current system does not drain well and water is pushed out onto the fields. Playground surfacing was also requested, since the current wood mulch is strewn about and must be replaced often.

Turner Lake Park is also on the list, with a need for more fencing, an additional playground and new HVAC controls. A wedding gazebo could draw in more revenue, but Hailey doubts there will be enough money.

Additional requests were made for improvements to Trailblazers Park, Beaver Park, Nelson Heights Community Center, Baker Field, South Street Park and Mary Louise Fowler Park. Only a small fraction of what is needed will get done, Hailey said, adding that $1 million won't go far as architectural and other fees have to be paid out of that money in addition to construction and materials.

"All of our parks have got age on them with the exception of a few like Denny Dobbs and the Nelson Heights Community Center. There are a lot of cosmetic problems that could turn into safety issues. You can only piecemeal things together so many times," he said.