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City: Improvements to 2 parks would be almost $4M project
Penny suggests further SPLOST, 10-year debt for Luetta Moore, Grady Street parks
Luetta Moore Park, shown in this sketch plan by the Wood firm, is one of two parks proposed for major upgrades. The other is Grady Street Park.

Improvements proposed for two parks in Statesboro – Luetta Moore Park and the Grady Street Park – would cost $3.98 million, according to cost estimates the city government obtained from consultants.

Statesboro City Manager Charles Penny provided City Council an update during its June 16 work session with information from Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions. Ron Huffman of the Wood firm had presented an assessment of these two parks as well as Memorial Park, better known as the Fair Road Park, to the council in March. Sketch plans for all three, including two options for Luetta Moore Park, were displayed online for public comment during an April “virtual open house.”

But Memorial Park was dropped from consideration for the cost estimates because of its tie-in with the Creek on the Blue Mile project, which is still in planning stages of its own.

Having suggested in March that city officials faced a choice in spending for parks, to “phase it in and have little impact or … go focused and have big impact,” Penny made clear last week that he favors a big impact at the Luetta Moore and Grady Street parks.

The cost estimate for the option including a teaching pool at Luetta Moore Park on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive is a little under $2.63 million. The estimate for the Grady Street Park project is a little over $1.35 million. These add up to $3.98 million.

However, the Luetta Moore estimate includes $144,944 for engineering and surveying, plus a 20% contingency, or $414,126, for unexpected costs, in addition to $2.07 million for construction. Similarly, the Grady Street estimate includes $74,550 for engineering and surveying and a 20% contingency, or $212,999, besides $1.06 million for construction.

Penny said he thinks a 20% contingency is “a little high.” He used $3.9 million, instead of rounding up to $4 million, as the projected total.


Park sketch plans

Still a sketch and not a finished design, the Luetta Moore Park plan calls for removing the softball field south of the community building; expanding the parking lot by 42 spaces; and adding a splash pad and the three-lane teaching pool, a restroom and bathhouse, a volleyball court and two tennis courts, a multi-age playground, two family pavilions with grills and a drainage detention pond. Existing basketball courts will be maintained, the Little League field renovated and its parking area improved.

The sketch plan for Grady Street Park proposes creating  a covered, secured-entry three-court basketball pavilion plus an open half court; expanding parking by 36 spaces; adding an accessible 1,040-foot walking trail, a multi-age playground and two family picnic pavilions with grills; and renovating the restrooms and installing a drinking fountain.


County SPLOST help

Bulloch County commissioners have agreed to set aside $200,000 a year for five years for improvements to parks in Statesboro from the current Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

This $1 million would be in addition to the $1.1 million, or $220,000 a year, earmarked Statesboro’s share of current SPLOST funding, Penny said. The city proposed spending that amount on parks and trails before a November 2018 countywide referendum that extended the 1% SPLOST for six years.

However, that extension did not begin until the previous SPLOST expired at the end of 2019. Together, the city and county SPLOST commitments amount to $2.1 million, a little over half the cost, accumulating over five years.

“In order to really make these improvements and to make an impact, I don’t think that you can do the project without issuing debt for the park improvements, and so then the question to council is, do you want to borrow to do one park or do you want to borrow to do both parks,” Penny told the mayor and council members.

This was information for future discussion. No action was taken last week.

“If you combine (the projects), it’s $3.9 million, and I would just say to you, if you’re going to borrow for one, I would recommend you go ahead and borrow for both, because there’s a cost of issuing debt,” Penny said.

He added that, since the current SPLOST is approved only through 2025, it’s important for the public to know that to fund the park improvements, the SPLOST will need to be extended again.

“If you’re going to borrow $3.9 million, you need to plan to pay that debt back over 10 years at a minimum,” Penny said. “You could go 15, but I would recommend you probably go for 10. So we would need for our citizens to know, and we’d need an agreement with Bulloch County that we need to renew that SPLOST fund and include these park improvements in it.”


Financing options

He noted four possible ways the city could obtain a 10-year loan for $3.9 million. Issuing general-obligation bonds would require approval by voters in a city referendum. Establishing a Statesboro Public Facilities Authority would require approval by the state Legislature. Penny did not recommend either of these as the first option.

Instead, he suggested borrowing the money through the Georgia Municipal Association’s Bricks and Mortar Financing Program or creating an urban development authority, or UDA.  City Council might establish itself as a UDA for the park projects, Penny said. As plans develop further, the city will get a comparison of these options from its financial advisor firm, he said.

The next step will be to get the county’s approval, Penny said. He also recommended that the city use Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions to do the design work.

The county, not the city, has paid Wood for the park study and sketch plans to this point. The Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department, funded by the county under the Service Delivery Strategy agreement renewed for 10 years last year, operates these parks on city-owned property.

“We can’t decide which way to borrow the money to do it, I don’t think, until we’ve got a commitment from the county, not only on paying it back, but on how we’re going to staff it once we build those facilities,” said District 5 Councilwoman Shari Barr.

Penny said the council may need to decide if the city will assist with staffing.

“At one point the city used to run these things and we stepped away from it and allowed the county to be responsible, but in some ways we might need to be willing to also be a participant if we want these improvements for our community,” he said.

“That’s a very insightful statement …,” Mayor Jonathan McCollar said. “Programming is going to be essential. We really do have an issue as far as presenting opportunity for our young people that’s in high-risk situations … so that’s going to have to be a collaborative effort.”

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