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Milstead park plans receive mixed reviews
Artist's rendering of the renovated Milstead park - photo by Kathy Hooks

By next summer Milstead residents may be enjoying a new pocket park complete with a walking path, pavilion and swings on the site that has housed the Milstead pool for nearly 80 years. 

Residents gathered Tuesday night to get a glimpse of the county's plans for the nearly 1-acre site during a public information meeting held by Rockdale recreation and maintenance department officials. The final rendering for the park, which was modified following citizen feedback during the first meeting held last year to discuss the future of the site, received mixed reviews from the crowd of about 25 gathered at the Milstead Baptist Church Tuesday.

Creating the park at the corner of Main Street and Spring Street in historic Milstead will use $120,000 of Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funding earmarked for the project, which involves demolishing the pool and installing a pavilion, walking path, green space, swings, picnic tables, grills and a water feature. 

Several residents were holding out hope that the county would re-open the Milstead pool, which was built in 1934 and closed for good in 2008. Andrew Hammer, Capital and Community Improvements Manager for the Department of Recreation and Maintenance, explained to the crowd Tuesday evening that SPLOST funds are governed by state law and cannot be used for projects that will incur additional operating or maintenance costs, such as a swimming pool. His announcement was met with mixed reactions from residents who have differing opinions on the future of the site. 

Fourth generation Milstead resident Mike Griffin said he was in favor of the park even though the pool has historic significance for the community where he grew up.

"I learned how to swim in that pool, but being realistic, this pool is not realistic," Griffin said during the meeting. "My parents and grandparents saw the heyday of this town, and I've seen the steady decay of this town. And most of the time we do get put on the back burner in Milstead. I think this park you are proposing is awesome. My only concern is about security and vandalism, because there are a lot of problems out here, but we have to be realistic and accept this."

Milstead resident Lane Kinney voiced opposition to the park and expressed her desire to find other funding sources to repair and reopen the pool.

"Why does SPLOST have to be the end of all ends to the pool?" Kinney asked. "There is no outdoor pool anywhere in Rockdale County, and they are trying to tell me they can't afford a pool. If everybody puts a dollar in we can have a pool. The kids here learn how to swim in the river with the leeches. That is unacceptable to me, and it should be unacceptable to the whole county." 

Johnson Park has the only pool currently managed by the county's recreation department, and Hammer said a master plan developed in 2006 called for the Milstead pool to be replaced with a different type of recreation option. A study conducted of the site found that the pool does not drain properly, requires significant annual maintenance, the showers and restrooms are in poor condition, fencing is missing, there is no parking lot and no handicapped ramp, according to Hammer. 

Commissioner Oz Nesbit addressed the Milstead residents at the close of Tuesday's meeting and urged them to form a homeowners association to be a voice for their community. He reminded the residents that the SPLOST recreation subcommittee of citizens worked to develop the plan for the park.

"Our SPLOST committee is a team of your local citizens, a group of people who have put their hearts and minds together for the entire community," Nesbit said. "This park is going to bring in more police protection, beautify the community and give it a whole new look. It is an opportunity to bring new life into the community," 

Recreation officials said the next step for the project will be developing construction drawings and advertising for bids for the park. Of the $120,000 earmarked for the park, $33,000 is for demolition of the pool, $40,000 is for the playground, $40,000 is for the pavilion, $5,000 is for sidewalks and $2,000 is for signage.