Covington officials took another step toward adding a gazebo to the square Tuesday and also unveiled a full landscaping plan that reinvents areas of the square.
The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to allow the city to move forward with the gazebo and add more benches to the square, and, in a separate vote, approved the city’s full conceptual plan but asked that city officials come back before the board in the future.
The plan, which Covington Planning Director Randy Vinson said is in the conceptual stage and can be viewed at CovNews.com, calls for:
- A 24-foot wide gazebo to be placed on the southeast quadrant nearest Scoops.
- A bubbler fountain around the Confederate soldier statue in the middle of the square.
- 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.
- Planting azaleas near the war veterans monument to give this more of a "contemplative garden" look, Vinson said
- Beginning to replace the maple trees around the outside of the square, which are dying and are ill-suited for urban environments, 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 county owns the square but reached an agreement last November for the city to take over formal maintenance of the square. Any major changes must first be approved by the county, as the Board of Commissioners did Tuesday.
Vinson was clear that the city has not yet priced the above items, and the City Council will be the body to decide how much it wants to spend on improvements.
The gazebo is being added to give a more permanent location for concerts on the square; Main Street Covington has previously purchased two 10-foot by 10-foot tents for concerts, but Vinson said they don’t last.
In addition, the gazebo would likely have portable tables and chairs during the week so people could enjoy lunch and dinner outside; the tables and chairs would be removed for events.
Vinson said the gazebo’s support pillars will be 12-feet tall and the gazebo will have a very open design to maintain sightlines on the square. He said the gazebo was carefully sized so that it doesn’t dominate the square but has a stately look and civic presence.
Commissioner Nancy Schulz voted against the gazebo, expressing concern about ongoing maintenance costs should the city decide in the future it doesn’t want to take care of the square any longer. She said the agreement with the city was so new and has to be renewed in a couple of months and she was nervous about making a commitment so early into the new arrangement.
The towering magnolias will not be moved. They’re receiving ongoing maintenance to extend their lifespan, but Vinson said the trees are likely more than 100 years old based on old photographs, and the upper range of their lifespan is around 140 years, so they may only be around for another decade or two.
The city wants to being planting new trees now so that by the time the magnolias die, other trees will have reached maturity, ensuring that the square still has trees with full canopies to preserve its look.
Commissioner Levie Maddox supported the city’s effort, saying he thinks the changes will add needed energy and vibrancy to a downtown area that needs both. He said he believes the square has been neglected in past years, and he believes the city will deliver a premium product that will "add some eye candy and pop to the downtown area."
At the Covington City Council’s Tuesday retreat, Mayor Randy Johnston said he would like to see the city spend money – he tossed out a $100,000 figure – to really spruce up the square and give it a different look.
City officials discussed the possibility of buying the landscaping supplies and potentially finding a company that would be willing to provide the landscaping labor for free in exchange for the publicity from doing such a prominent job. Johnston said he’s already been approached by some companies interested in doing ex