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Council OKs square spruce up minus gazebo
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The square will still get spruced up this year, even if those plans no longer include a gazebo.

The Covington City Council voted Monday to move ahead with the rest of the proposed plan for improving the square with the exceptions of the 24-foot wide gazebo and the bubbler fountain around the Confederate soldier monument.

Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston, who has been the biggest proponent of improving and sprucing up the square, asked council members if they’d consider improving the square without the gazebo, and they agreed. The council voted 5-0 in favor (Janet Goodman was absent because of the death of a family member).

The topic had relatively little discussion Monday after becoming a major talking point around town during the past month, though most of that conversation was between council members and residents who were split over whether adding a gazebo to the square’s southeast quadrant would enhance or detract from the area.

Councilman Keith Dalton made sure no bubbler fountain or any other water feature would be placed around the Confederate soldier monument in the middle of the square; the consensus of the committee that discussed the square improvement plans had been not to have a water fountain there.

As for the aspects the council did approve, they include:
• Turning the area around the war veterans monument near the Historic Courthouse into a paved area to make it more accessible for events such as those held on Veterans Day and Memorial Day; the flagpole will also be moved there from the other side of the square
• Planting azaleas near the war veterans monument to give this more of a "contemplative garden" look, Covington Planning Director Randy Vinson said previously
• Beginning to replace the maple trees around the outside of the square, which are dying and are ill-suited for urban environments, Vinson said, with more suitable willow oak trees; other red and white oaks will also be planted
• Adding more trash cans and benches and ensuring all of them have a uniform look
• The southeast quadrant getting a new concrete plaza to “match the one around the veterans memorial,” Vinson said in a Tuesday email, noting bands will be able to set up in that area. Because the flag pole and dedication marker for the pole are being moved, they will “pretty much destroy the brick plaza that is currently there.”

The cost to make the changes to the war veterans monument are estimated to cost around $24,000, Vinson said previously. Costs for other items were not previously given, but Vinson said Tuesday the city is gathering all the cost proposals from various contractors.

While the committee proposed using hotel/motel taxes to improve the square and build the gazebo, the council didn’t specify Monday what money it would use to make the reduced set of improvements. Originally, the money was just set to come out of the general fund.

In a follow-up email Tuesday, Knight said the council would have to vote specifically to use money from the council’s hotel/motel tax special project’s fund. That fund has around $200,000, but $121,760 of that money has been dedicated to pay for the addition of restrooms downtown, leaving less than $80,000 for other projects.

One of Councilman Chris Smith’s previous complaints about the committee’s recommendation to approve the entire square plan including the gazebo was that the council had previously committed to use hotel/motel tax money to begin to make improvements at Legion Field. It’s unclear what direction the council will take, as hotel/motel taxes were never brought up Monday.