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City to lend $1.5M to Miracle field
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Newton County's Miracle League field could be built within 10 to 15 months, following the Covington City Council agreeing Monday night to lend $1.5 million to the special needs baseball complex.

The council voted unanimously to lend city money to the project at a yet to be determined interest rate, contingent upon legal approval.

Voters approved giving the Miracle League field $1.5 million in the 2011 SPLOST, but Newton County commissioners have said they will not bond out any project, meaning many SPLOST projects will not be completed for at least six years - the length of the 2011 SPLOST.

SPLOST money would be used to repay the city; but City Attorney Ed Crudup said he had to meet with County Attorney Tommy Craig to determine how such financing would work and if it is legal.

The city will not give the county a lump sum, but rather the city would pay project bills as they came due, said Tamara Richardson, fundraising consultant for the Miracle League of Newton County.

Not only do Miracle League officials want to build the complex as soon as possible, they are also concerned they might lose $600,000 to $900,000 in free labor from the Georgia Department of Corrections, said Recreation Director Tommy Hailey. The state has pledged prisoner labor to build the complex, but Hailey said the state could withdraw its offer at any time.

As soon as the legal issues regarding the city's loan are worked out, Hailey said construction documents would then be drawn up, which would take around 60 days. The corrections department would be notified and work would likely begin shortly after the documents were completed.

Corrections department officials estimated construction could take between eight to 12 months or longer, Richardson said, but that depends on weather and available labor force.

"These projects are not quick builds...if there is fog, rain, etc., the inmates do not leave the prison (to work)," Richardson said in an email. "Also, inmates get if our electrician, for example, gets paroled, we may need to wait a few weeks, etc. for another to come onto the site."

The nonprofit created to fund the Miracle League, Friends of Newton County Miracle League, has raised around $225,000 to date and would be willing to pay any interest accrued from the city's loan, assuming the county did not agree to pay interest, said nonprofit Chairman Dick Schulz.

The project's price tag is $2 million, but free construction labor would significantly reduce costs. The project originally was designed as a $2.6 million complex and that version could be built if the project receives large donations or corporate support. Richardson said multiple local companies have agreed to donate construction materials to further reduce costs.

Richardson said previously that there are about 2,500 special needs youth between the ages of 3 and 22 in Newton County, who have no "therapeutic recreational program to serve them." The specially designed rubber Miracle League baseball/softball field would draw from a 60-mile radius. It will be located on the former site of the Covington Police Department's shooting range next to City Pond Park.

The facility is also planned to include special needs playgrounds for children aged 2-5 and children aged 5-12, in addition to two traditional baseball fields. The special-needs playgrounds will be the only such playgrounds in Newton County, Richardson said. They will be different from basic handicap-accessible playgrounds.

Hailey said the county's recreation department would be responsible for the maintenance and operation of the complex. The recreation department has had its budget cut while having more parks added to the county, so services have been cut back, but Hailey said the Miracle League is being designed to require low maintenance.

He said the artificial fields will not require mowing, fertilizer or irrigation and lighting and building maintenance costs could be offset by participation and concession revenue. In addition, the Friends of Newton County Miracle League will still be around to potentially help with any money issues, Hailey said.