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County approves Square changes

Onlookers watched the filming of scenes from “The Vampire Diaries” around the Square in Covington Wednesday afternoon. The filming drew a crowd of folks as they watched scenes being shot next to Mystic Grill. The Square has become a focal point for filming and other activities in Covington, and the city and county have approved some changes to the park, including landscaping, installation of benches and construction of a pavilion. (Staff Photo: Julie Wells)

Onlookers watched the filming of scenes from “The Vampire Diaries” around the Square in Covington Wednesday afternoon. The filming drew a crowd of folks as they watched scenes being shot next to Mystic Grill. The Square has become a focal point for filming and other activities in Covington, and the city and county have approved some changes to the park, including landscaping, installation of benches and construction of a pavilion. (Staff Photo: Julie Wells)

COVINGTON — City officials have big plans to revamp the Square, and the Newton County Board of Commissioners agreed to approve the changes but with the request to be informed if any of those plans change.

City Planning and Zoning manager Randy Vinson presented a conceptual master plan to the commissioners on Tuesday which included planting new trees, installing a fountain around the statue and other landscape ideas.

Vinson said the city would begin to make the Square changes when funds were made available.

The city agreed at the Feb. 5 council meeting to construct a pavilion where small concerts can be held; add park benches and approved the installation of a historical marker.

Vinson showed commissioners a small-scaled vision of the pavilion to be constructed on the Square, which raised a concern for Commissioner Nancy Schulz.

The city entered a memorandum of understanding with the county to take on the responsibility of maintaining the park in November. Through the MOU, the city is required to ask permission from the county for any permanent changes.

Schulz said she was hesitant to approve the pavilion because of the uncertainty of who would maintain the permanent structure if the city decided to give the responsibility of the Square back to the county.

“We had agreed in November to enter into this trial period of the MOU until the end of the fiscal year. The city has elaborate plans for the Square, but I’m uncomfortable since we’ve just entered into this agreement,” Schulz said.

Vinson said the pavilion would add a civic presence to the Square by adding a permanent concert area, photographic opportunities for citizens and visitors as well as an area for people to dine outdoors.

“I think this plan will add vibrancy to a key downtown place,” Commissioner Levie Maddox said. “I think it is the city’s intent to bring these conceptual plans to us and if there’s any significant changes, they’ll bring it back to us.”

Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve park benches and the pavilion, with Schulz in opposition. Vinson said the next step for the changes is putting a bid out for the landscape work.

Vinson raised concerns for the pecan tree that he said is dropping limbs and needs to be removed. He noted the city is looking at succession planning for the trees on the Square and wants to plant three willow oaks on the street edge to provide shade in the next 10 to 15 years.

“When the city agreed to take over maintenance we started developing a landscape plan, we realized we’ve got tree issues that need to be taken care of soon. Now we have a master plan on how we can evolve the landscape over time,” Vinson said.

Commissioners approved the conceptual landscape plan unanimously with the exception that if any significant changes were made to the plan, it would be brought before the county again. A historical marker to be installed was also approved unanimously.

Civil War Heritage Trails Executive Director Steven Longcrier told commissioners the sign installed will reflect information about Union Major General William Sherman’s March to the Sea, detailing what happened in and around Covington during that time. The sign will be provided through a Georgia Department of Transportation grant the historical organization received in order to erect the signs following the march across the state.

Longcrier said it would be installed on thee west side of the Square so if a person is looking at the historical marker, the person would be facing the Historic Courthouse.