PARKS AND RECREATION
MASTER PLAN PUBLIC MEETING
Thursday, March 24, 6:30 p.m.
Turner Lake banquet room,
6185 Turner Lake Road NW, Covington
COVINGTON, Ga. — A master plan that recommends up to $96 million in the next decade for new and current parks and recreation projects is set to be unveiled to the public Thursday, March 24, at Turner Lake banquet room.
Durin a March 1 work session, Aaron St. Pierre of Lose & Associates, which compiled the document, detailed the draft version of the parks master plan for the Newton County Board of Commissioners — which will have the final say on amount and timing of funding for projects and staffing.
The plan notes that Newton County has far less spending per person on its parks and less staffing compared to comparable counties and recommends $18 million in the next two years in part just for deferred maintenance.
In existing parks, the plan recommends:
• City Pond — four new tennis courts, two new basketball courts, and a new parks and recreation department maintenance facility.
• Denny Dobbs — two new tennis courts and a new recreation center with an indoor gymnasium.
• Beaver Park — one new tennis court and one outdoor basketball court.
• The county-owned Factory Shoals Park adjacent to the Alcovy River in south Newton is operated under contract. The master plan recommends it be placed under the parks and recreation department, he said.
Factory Shoals presents a “unique opportunity for us to be able to expand our programming offerings” by adding a natural area, a “cultural resource center,” and new trails, educational exhibits, playground and campsites at the park which adjoins the Alcovy River, St. Pierre said.
In his answer to a question from District 3 Commissioner Alana Sanders, he said a study of Fairview Park’s location and discussions with department officials showed it was not of an adequate size or public access to warrant the need for new facilities.
The park is located within the Fairview Estates neighborhood.
“We’re proposing a brand new facility in the approximate area to meet those needs,” St. Pierre said.
He said new facilities recommended in the plan include:
• Westside Community Park “to hit some of that high-density population,” he said.
“We see that as a pressing need, something that should be addressed in the near term,” St. Pierre said.
The plan recommends it include a new community center, four tennis courts, a splash pad, four outdoor basketball courts, two new multi-purpose fields, and a new playground.
St. Pierre said the population in the area around Fairview Road in west Newton was “significantly more dense” than the rest of the county with up to 2,500 residents per square mile.
“Not saying there aren’t a lot of folks who don’t have need, but the number difference in that area there was very notable to our design team,” he told commissioners.
• Construction of a new park on Hwy. 36; and Spring Hill Park on Lower River Road south of Porterdale.
Commissioners on Tuesday, March 15, approved using $3 million in excess SPLOST collections for Spring Hill Park.
• St. Pierre said the plan discusses construction of an aquatics center.
“We see a need in this community for aquatics programming,” St. Pierre said.
He said an aquatics center was an opportunity to offer general community recreation as well as senior classes and a facility for swim teams.
“We’re about the size where we should be considering something along those lines,” he said.
Commissioner Demond Mason has said he wanted funding for its construction at Denny Dobbs Park.
• A “future term” project is development of an East Side Community Park, St. Pierre said.
Newton County budgets about 48% of what counties of Newton’s size spend on parks and recreation, he said.
Governments in communities of similar size to Newton — less than 500 residents per square mile — spend an average of about $45 per person for recreation services in the U.S. Newton is spending about $22 per person, or 48% of its peer communities, he said.
In addition, Newton spends less per person than Bartow ($38) or Walton ($32) counties which are similar in size to Newton in metro Atlanta.
And fees collected from youth and adult sports, building rentals and miscellaneous revenue only brings in about 12% of the department’s operating budget — which is low by national standards, St. Pierre said.
Staffing levels for the county’s 13 parks and 638 acres also was lower compared to national levels and Walton and Bartow counties, he said.
Newton employs 17 full time and nine part-time workers, which is equal to 21.5 full-time positions for 638 acres of land and a population of 113,000.
By comparison, Walton County has 34 full-time equivalent employees for 570 acres of park land and a population of 96,000. Bartow County has 20 full-time equivalent workers but has less park land (561 acres) and a smaller population (108,000), he said.
The national average for similarly-sized counties is 57 full-time equivalent positions, St. Pierre said.
The Lose & Associates study recommended Newton County increase its parks and recreation staff to 59 full-time and 37 part-time employees over the next decade — with the increase connected to specific facilities the study is urging the county to build, he said.
The increase could be done in phases, with staffing increased in the short term to 35 full-time workers for enhanced maintenance of existing facilities, he said.
Recommended funding levels were:
• $18.6 million in the next two years for facilities planning and deferred maintenance projects;
• The beginning of work on new facilities at existing parks and new park properties at a cost of $31 million over three years.
• $46 million for “big ticket” facilities such as an aquatic center and east side park.
• A total of $96 million over 10 years, or $9.6 million per year, “from a facilities standpoint to get us to the level of service to the community that’s been requested,” St. Pierre said.
COMPILING THE PLAN
St. Pierre said the process of compiling the plan began with hearing comments from about 100 participants in six public meetings in each commission district in October 2021.
He said the Lose & Associates team studied usage of the county’s 13 parks and found Turner Lake, Denny Dobbs and City Pond parks each had at least twice as many visits as any other park — simply because each contained more diverse offerings than the other 10 facilities.
He said a survey of county residents found the top reason residents do not use the amenities offered in county parks is lack of awareness of what is available.
The survey showed residents’ top concerns about county parks were the diversity of amenities in each one, as well as safety, walkability and maintenance of the facilities.
St. Pierre said some survey respondents said there were not enough parks near their Newton County homes.
“We need to make sure there is distribution,” he said.
Many also said parks and recreation was just as critical a county government service as other services like fire protection, St. Pierre said.
He said 80% of respondents said they would be willing to support additional fees for enhanced recreation programming. About two-thirds said they would be willing to pay up to $15 per month per household, he said.
Lose & Associates also studied where population was most concentrated in the county to determine areas which have the greatest need for new or additional recreation facilities.
The area around Fairview Road in west Newton near the Rockdale County line is the most densely populated area of the county. However, areas nearby also are not as densely populated but still reflect where Newton County’s population is mainly concentrated, he said.
He displayed a map that showed between 500 and 2,000 residents per square mile resided in central Newton in and around Covington, and between Covington and the Rockdale County line in west Newton.
The least densely populated areas were in a semi-circle containing north, east and south parts of the county, he said.
St. Pierre said his design team’s study also found Newton County’s population generally was “growing older at a slightly faster rate” than counties of similar sizes like Fayette, Bartow and Walton.
The group containing residents ages 45 and older has been growing “disproportionately faster” than other age groups, he said.
A significantly older population generally lives in north Newton along Walton County liner, while a younger group generally lived in downtown Covington and Oxford, he said.
The highest income areas were in northeast Newton while the lowest income areas were south and southwest of Covington and Porterdale. Lower income areas tended to have more children in each household, he said.
“That means there’s a higher need for specific services that we need to be addressing,” St. Pierre said.
In addition, the availability of parks and recreation facilities and programming tended to produce more economic opportunities for communities. New employers seeking to locate in any area place as much emphasis on quality of life — such as the diversity of recreational offerings — as on availability of infrastructure or utilities, he said.
The Thursday, March 24, public meeting at 6:30 p.m. at 6185 Turner Lake Road NW in Covington will include a presentation from consultant Lose & Associates and a question and answer session, according to information from the county government.