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Newton board talks funding, timing of projects in 10-year parks plan
Baseball fields

COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County commissioners had questions about why some projects were considered and the timing of funding of projects in a plan for future growth of the county's parks program recently.

Commissioners questioned consultants from Lose Design on March 15 about the plan which suggests $96 million in spending over the next decade for new and upgraded recreation facilities countywide.

It followed a March 1 work session in which they heard details of the Newton County Parks and Recreation 2022-2032 facilities master plan. 

An open meeting on the plan is scheduled for Thursday, March 24, at 6:30 p.m. at Turner Lake banquet hall at 6185 Turner Lake Road in Covington.

District 3 Commissioner Alana Sanders asked about what the consultant recommended about the timing of funding for projects in the plan. 

St. Pierre said the plan calls for a "large capital program" and needed "buy-in" from the community if it is to gain public support.

He said elected officials will need to work to determine the timing of funding.

However, a short-term recommendation for about $18 million for completion of deferred maintenance projects at the county's 13 parks could help show the public the county is serious about implementing the plan, St. Pierre said.

Almost $7 million of the needed maintenance was at City Pond and Turner Lake parks, he said.

He said the next step could include building a project that will benefit the most people, such as one built in the county's most densely populated area, while also providing a smaller project in another area to help encourage support for the plan beyond only one location.

Sanders also noted the consultants only heard from about 100 residents within a population of 113,000 during five public meetings in October. 

She asked if the consultants had considered working with Newton County School System officials to gauge what young residents wanted to see built and added to county facilities.

"You have a lot of the centennials and millennial who are not being looked at," she said.

District 2 Commissioner Demond Mason said he was interested in the plan's recommendation that commissioners consider an aquatics center because of his past advocacy for such a facility.

St. Pierre responded that the plan included an aquatic facility because the county was drastically underserved for such a public amenity.

"We really don't have anything here," he said. 

"For a population of 113,000 ... with a significant projected growth in the next 10 years, not having some sort of a quality water recreation facility, whether that's a true aquatic center or a very well-done community pool with a splash pad component, something along those lines, we're a little bit behind the times on that,” St. Pierre said. 

Newton County is behind other metro Atlanta counties in providing some sort of water-related recreation programming — which can be a factor when Newton is compared against others for their quality of life, he said.  

St. Pierre also noted the plan was specific in recommending a multi-use aquatic facility designed for both families and competitive swimmers rather than a facility strictly for competitive swimming — which tends to lose money for its host government. 

He noted demand is typically strong for competitive swimming facilities but only affects a small number of people. Having components that interest families, such as splash pads, will help generate the revenue needed for maintaining the facility, he said.  

District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards asked about corporate sponsorship of some facilities. He noted Newton County has "some very, very big players in town and coming to town" that may want to "be in tune with the community," he said.

Katie Troline of GoldMedal Force LLC, who was also a consultant on the plan, said private companies often will assist governments with construction of recreational facilities by providing funding in exchange for public recognition.

Troliine said companies typically will provide funding for projects with which they are associated. 

"It's all about common philosophy — what they can get from this, the benefits, the exposure, how this relates to this company," she said.

St. Pierre cited examples of Purina pet foods providing the bulk of the funding for a "very nice" dog park in Johns Creek. 

Northside Hospital also pays an annual sponsorship fee to Cherokee County for its aquatic center because it offers water-based exercise and recreation, he said.

Growing revenue to help fund recreational projects in the plan also could come from other sources, Troline said.

"In the master plan we do talk about utilizing several revenue sources," she said. "Sponsorships are one, grants are another."

Edwards said he was concerned about the maintenance "backlog" St. Pierre referenced because of potential liability from not upgrading facilities for which maintenance had been delayed. 

St. Pierre gave the example of a baseball field with an outfield that is lower than the infield that could lead to injuries to players.

District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson said he did not want the plan to "gather dust" as he believed happened with a five-year Comprehensive Master Plan approved in 2005.

He said consideration of the plan in effect made "promises" that facilities in some parts of the county would be built, such as a football field and track to serve such areas as Nelson Heights.

"It just seemed like we had forgot about that and I'm trying to figure out how can we... get that done, keep the promise that had been made and get that done so we can kind of move on," he said.

St. Pierre said the recommendations in the 2022 master plan included development of a new park nearby on Georgia Hwy. 36 that included an open area that could be developed into a multi-purpose field. 

He said a separate facility design likely needed to be done to incorporate a playing field and track at the Nelson Heights Community Center in south Covington.