Rome and Floyd County officials agreed it’s time to draw up a new parks and recreation master plan to replace one drafted about 20 years ago.
“We have a lot of things coming online in the next three to four years,” County Commission Chair Scotty Hancock said during last week’s Joint Services Committee meeting.
About $2 million worth of facility improvements and expansions will be funded through earmarks in the 2017 special purpose, local option sales tax package. The resulting increase in use will also mean an increase in operation and maintenance costs.
The SPLOST also contains $3.6 million for “waterways” — projects that focus on making Rome’s rivers more accessible.
A firm budget hasn’t been drafted yet, but it will go for an expansion of the Rome-Floyd ECO River Education Center in Ridge Ferry Park; construction of a community boathouse and educational greenspace off Pollock Street in South Rome; and river trail campsites for paddlers.
“A master plan will make us the best stewards of public money,” City Commissioner Randy Quick said.
Parks & Rec Executive Director Todd Wofford said there’s funding available to hire an outside consultant to examine the county’s assets and future needs. The process is expected to take about a year, with several public hearings scheduled to gather input.
“It’s going to painful, though,” Wofford warned. “With the number of people we have — it’s going to show we need more people.”
The Parks & Rec Department’s maintenance staff was whittled down to 18 from 25 during the recession, Wofford said, even as new facilities were added via previous SPLOSTs.
An intergovernmental agreement in 2015 transferred some of the assets to city maintenance. But City Manager Sammy Rich said his public works crews are also being stretched with responsibility for the tennis centers, city trail system, Barron Stadium, Legion Field and the Throws Center on Riverside Parkway.
The discussion arose out of the city’s request that the county rec department take back responsibility for Eagle Park. A five-year private lease of the 3-acre park on Forsyth Street lapsed this year.
“It’s an old park, not a new one,” Rich pointed out.
That didn’t appear to be a problem for Wofford, who noted that there are few amenities and little grass left at this point. But he asked for guidance in the future, as existing parks are upgraded.
“The next one’s going to be a problem. We’re not staffed for it,” he said, adding later that, “When you add facilities, the next call will be ‘You built a bathroom down here and nobody gets out to clean them on the weekends.’”
Collections just started in April for the 2017 SPLOST and it’s unlikely any county recreation projects will be constructed before 2020 and 2021.
However, Rome doesn’t have high-dollar projects like the county jail medical wing and city officials want to get started on their list.
That includes $400,000 for covered basketball courts and bathrooms at Parks Hoke Park on Nixon Avenue. It’s next to Burrell Square, 34 duplex homes on the former Anna K. Davie Elementary School site, which opened in 2018.
Mayor Bill Collins said the revitalized area needs a revitalized park.
“Those people feel like they’re isolated,” he said. “They’re desperately waiting to get out of their homes and explore their neighborhood.”
Officials agreed that the project shouldn’t wait for the master plan to be completed.
County Commissioner Wright Bagby noted that residents in the new affordable housing on Wilson Avenue and Pennington Place also would benefit from Parks Hoke Park upgrades.
But he urged Wofford to move quickly on the master plan. New affordable homes on Pollack Street, leading into the “waterways” boathouse site, also are on the market. The South Rome housing projects are all government-backed initiatives.
“We’ve got a huge investment there and people who care are moving in,” Bagby said.