Sumter County Parks and Recreation Department has big plans for 2016
Published 2:22 pm Friday, March 11, 2016
By MICHAEL MURRAY
AMERICUS — The Sumter County Parks and Recreation Department (SCPRD) has some big plans for the upcoming year, both at the department’s headquarters on Rucker Street and the Recreational Complex on U.S. Highway 19.
SCPRD executive director, Tim Estes, recently sat down with the Times-Recorder to discuss the organization’s upcoming plans and their anticipated benefits to the community.
The first item on the SCPRD’s 2016 agenda is to add a pair of soccer fields to the recreational complex. The complex currently holds two regulation-sized fields. Estes said that the two fields would be smaller than the existing fields, and will be aligned side-by-side so that they can be used as a regulation field if need be.
“The plan is to use it on a day-to-day basis for our younger kids playing soccer who play on a shorter field,” Estes said. “They’ll have two fields … If you think about how a basketball gym is set up, you have your one court that goes lengthwise. There are also goals on each side so you can play side-to-side in practice. That’s similar to the concept that we envision for these soccer fields. It will be one field lengthwise, but the way we’re going to set it up, there will be two mini fields aligned side-to-side.”
The new fields will be located adjacent to the existing fields at the recreational complex. Specific details of the project had not been finalized at the time the interview was conducted.
“That’s a part of the SPLOST [special purpose local option sales tax] that was passed,” Estes told the Times-Recorder. “That will be a $250,000 project. Our hope is that we can do some type of stage on one side of the field that will serve as an amphitheater for outdoor concerts or movies at the park … We would like to build bleachers on the other side of the field.”
Asked what the layout of the project will look like upon completion, Estes said, “We don’t know exactly how that’s going to look right now. A lot of that will be determined by the architect that draws up the plans … what the cost of that is. We haven’t done the actual cost analysis on that yet … What we do know is that there will be two new mini soccer fields, [which will be] fully lit and irrigated.”
The SCPRD administration also has plans for the batting cages located at the recreational complex. Estes said that the department is planning to build a metal “Butler-style” building around the batting cages to make them more comfortable for use during the winter months or on rainy days. The department has been approved for $75,000 for that project.
“[The building] probably won’t be heated or air-conditioned or anything like that … ” Estes said. “We can put Astroturf down and have garage-style doors on each side of the building so that, in the summertime, we can roll the doors up and get a breeze blowing through. In the winter, the doors would be closed and, that way, the wind chill will not affect the players as they practice … Hopefully, the public will be able to use that facility year-round to train for baseball [and softball].”
The SCPRD is planning on making some significant changes at The Columns at Boone Park, the department’s headquarters on Rucker Street, as well.
“We’re going to build an addition to the gymnastics center that will include a foam pit,” Estes told the Times-Recorder. “[The foam pit] is what is used for high-level gymnastics training. It’s a six-foot deep pit in the concrete floor that’s filled with foam cubes. Each of our gymnastics apparatuses will empty into that pit.
“We’ll have half of the floor where girls can learn to do their flips and dismount into the pit without risking injury,” he continued. “We have a beam that they’ll be able to practice their dismounts off of into [the pit] … and a runway for the vault. At the other end of the pit, we’ll have a set of high bars that are actually situated over the pit so that if anybody falls, they’ll land in the foam. That’s something we really need.”
On the department’s decision to invest in the foam pit, Estes stated, “We started our gymnastics program five years ago, thinking that it would take us five or 10 years to get to this point and we’ve gotten here quicker than we thought we would. We need this now because we’re currently training gymnasts up to a certain point where we do not feel comfortable taking them any further. That’s because we can’t do it safely … Once a gymnast gets to that point, we basically have to tell them ‘I’m sorry. You’ll have to find somewhere else to go.’”
Estes went on to say that, as of right now, the nearest facilities for young gymnasts to take their skills to the next level are in Columbus and Macon.
The other Rucker Street project that the SCPRD is planning for this year involves Boone Park, itself.
“We’re going to do a $250,000 renovation down there,” Estes explained. “The plans down there are to move the basketball court from where it is now, next to the pool, to the opposite end of the park.”
He explained that the relocated basketball court will be closer to Rucker Street and will be better-lit and easier to patrol.
Estes said that another impetus for the relocation is to cut down on confusion between patrons who are swimming in the summer, versus those who are playing basketball. “What happens in the summer, when we have the pool open, is that all of these folks come to the pool wanting to swim and they have to make their way through the courts where people are playing basketball,” he said. “We want to separate those two facilities and cut down on the congestion.”
Estes went on to say that the department is planning on adding another picnic pavilion as well to meet increasing demand. He told the Times-Recorder that the current pavilion is generally rented out at least once or twice a week during the summer months and that another pavilion will help the department to generate more revenue.
Estes also expressed a desire to put down rubber surfacing on the walking track and the existing playground at Boone Park as well as to erect a new sign to honor the park’s namesake, Willie Lee “Boone” Walton.
“[The rubber surfacing] will make the playground handicap accessible so children who need wheelchairs will be able to roll on it and participate,” Estes said. “It also meets national playground safety standards … It meets all of the requirements for the fall zones.”
Estes further elaborated, “It’s also a lot less maintenance. Right now, we have to constantly add new wood chips. That gets a little messy and a little expensive. That will allow us to perform less maintenance … and make the grounds look better. The aesthetics of the park will improve.”
For the department’s final proposed project, Estes stated, “We also got a little money in the SPLOST fund to put on a new roof and renovate the bathrooms out at the fairgrounds building. We have several groups that rent that building on a regular basis and it’s not in particularly good shape right now. We did not get enough money to totally renovate the facility, but the two most urgent needs are the new roof, because the rook leaks fairly bad, and the restrooms that are very old and in need of a lot of updating so that we can make them handicap accessible. We’d also like to make them a little nicer.”
In the past year, the SCPRD has seen a number of successes. In addition to the rapid growth of its gymnastics program, the SCPRD has seen significant gains in the youth basketball and softball programs. “If you compare where we were just three years ago, we had about 120 athletes that played basketball,” Estes said. “Now, we’re right up at 200 [players]. I think 197 is the actual number … We’ve seen significant growth over the last three years in that program. We’ve had a lot of success.
“Dwight Harris manages that program and has done a really good job marketing it,” he added. “We’re hoping hat some of our other sports will follow suit.”
On the softball program, Estes said, “We started girls’ softball two years ago. The program’s participation doubled in its second year … We hope that it continues to grow. If we double again this year, we’ll be in good shape.”