A planning and landscape architecture firm is beginning a needs assessment for upgrades of three parks operated by Statesboro-Bulloch Parks & Recreation within the city limits of Statesboro.
Ron Huffman, Kennesaw-based senior-principal at Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions, and Phyl Fralick, an environmental planner with the firm, attended a 4 p.m. Statesboro City Council work session Tuesday. Huffman presented an outline and tentative schedule for the study of operations, maintenance, staffing and programs at Grady Street Park, Luetta Moore Park and Memorial Park, which is better known as Fair Road Park.
“Today is Day One for us,” Huffman told the officials. “So I’m not presenting anything to you other than, we have looked at the parks today and this is what we are going to do.”
The study, at a cost not to exceed $22,500, is being funded by the Bulloch County government, Statesboro City Manager Charles Penny said later. County Manager Tom Couch has confirmed this, and that county officials have offered to spend up to $1 million of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds for improvements at these three parks.
An Oct. 15 scope-of-work letter from Wood Environment & Infrastructure to Couch proposed that “sketch master plans” will be developed after an analysis of existing conditions in the parks, a needs and priorities assessment and “stakeholder interviews” with local people to be identified by local government staff members.
When the sketch plans are ready, the consultants will present the plans and assessment for public review and comment at drop-in open house. Cost estimates for any site and facilities improvements are to be made part of the report.
The Bulloch County Board of Commissioners funds operation and maintenance of the Statesboro-Bulloch Parks and Recreation Department’s parks, including those in Statesboro. But the city owns the real estate at the three parks identified for this study. Under terms of the county government’s 10-year Service Delivery Strategy agreement, renewed last year with Statesboro and the other three towns, the county operates parks for city as well rural residents.
At the time of the SDS renewal, county commissioners assured Statesboro council members they would be willing to discuss changes regarding specific services after the agreement was signed. This averted a possible legal battle after the city and county had contracted specialized law firms for the renewal negotiations.
During and after last year’s SDS agreement standoff, Mayor Jonathan McCollar said that improving facilities and programs offered at the parks in Statesboro’s residential areas was his major concern.
Three new City Council members who won election over previous incumbents in November also expressed interest in improving these parks, and District 2 Councilwoman Paulette Chavers in particular made it a central issue of her campaign.
But the study follows from conversations Penny had with Couch soon after Penny arrived as city manager last July 1.
“We, the county, have agreed, in addition to the study, to put up to a million dollars of SPLOST money for recreation improvements, and at Mr. Penny’s suggestion, which I gladly agreed with, we decided that if we could get a consultant with parks expertise to look at what was needed in the three core city parks … that that’s what the focus should be,” Couch said Wednesday.
The tentative timeline Huffman projected for the study calls for the analysis of existing conditions, including park visits and creation of base maps, to occur now, in January. Then the needs and priority assessment should follow Feb. 1-Feb. 21, with a staff work session and stakeholder interviews in the latter half of that period.
Development of sketch master plans for each park and a related council work session are slated for March 1-15, followed by the public open house sometime March 16-31, or in other words, “mid-to-late March.”
“These dates I show are just ranges, because I don’t know your calendar and when you have dates available,” Huffman told the local officials.
Fletcher Park too?
Couch, the county manager, spoke briefly during the city work session. He suggested that the Wood firm might also conduct an assessment of another park, Fletcher Park, while studying the other three.
Fletcher Park is off North Main Street inside the Statesboro city limits. But the county, rather than the city, owns the Fletcher Park real estate. It includes a house, a barn and a lake and is maintained by Statesboro-Bulloch Parks & Recreation and used for its therapeutic horseback riding program.
Neighborhood residents have long suggested adding a walking trail at Fletcher Park, Couch noted.
“There is deep interest in having at least a walking trail, and then maybe for the time being we want to figure out how the horses and the people can coexist,” he said.
McCollar said he wanted the current study to remain focused on the three city-owned parks. But later, during Tuesday’s regular City Council session, he added that the county might develop plans for Fletcher Park.
Wednesday, Couch said he meant his Fletcher Park request to be a “value-added proposition” to take advantage of the study timeline and its public input meetings. The county would pay any additional costs for the assessment of Fletcher Park, and any resulting plans would be funded separately without affecting the county’s commitment to improvements at Grady Street Park, Luetta Moore Park and Memorial Park, Couch said.
Also during Tuesday’s work session, District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum asked if there would be any room for suggesting development of additional parks. He noted interest in the Whitesville neighborhood, which has a sporadically maintained park owned by a private association.
This prompted comments from the mayor about hopes for a more extensive future park system.
“Actually a long-term vision is for us to have pocket parks across the city. …,” McCollar said. “That’s part of a conversation that we would like to have so that more individuals inside of the city will have access to parks.”
That could be a topic at an upcoming planning retreat, he said.
But the current study, as Penny reiterated, will focus on the three identified, existing parks and ways to improve them, unless the county adds Fletcher Park to the study.