A proposed $25 million master plan for the redevelopment of intown Athens’ Bishop Park caught heavy criticism from some Athens-Clarke County commissioners, who balked at the potential price tag in view of what they see as a need to take a broader view of improvements to the county park system.
There are no immediate plans to fund any of the work proposed for Bishop Park, although in a presentation to commissioners at their non-voting Tuesday work session, Leisure Services administrators suggested it could be included in a potential future round of special-purpose local option sales tax-funded projects. A current 1 percent SPLOST is set to end in early 2020, and there already is talk in some quarters of re-instituting the levy.
In the meantime, the Leisure Services administrators recently suggested to commissioners there could be some investigation of additional funding sources for some possible future implementation of the Bishop Park master plan.
Open since 1974, and occupying more than 20 acres between Sunset Drive and Hawthorne Avenue, Bishop Park is facing some significant infrastructure needs, which are addressed in the multimillion-dollar master plan proposal.
According to a presentation to commissioners at a recent work session from Mel Cochran-Davis, administrator of Leisure Services’ Park Services Division, and Kent Kilpatrick, interim director of the county’s Leisure Services Department, the underground utilities at the park date from the original 1974 construction.
“All of the underground infrastructure is toast, basically,” Cochran-Davis told commissioners.
Additionally, a number of park structures are nearing the end of their life span; parts of the park are often flooded due to inadequate stormwater infrastructure; the park’s main building is not equipped with a sprinkler system; and park facilities do not meet requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
As commissioners pressed Cochran-Davis and Kilpatrick, wondering why those needs apparently hadn’t been effectively addressed over the years, Athens-Clarke County Manager Blaine Williams stepped in to tell commissioners that the department has regularly used all of the funding included in its budget each year to maintain facilities and replace items that have reached the end of their useful life.
For the fiscal year that ended June 30, the Leisure Services budget included $325,000 for capital expenditures. The budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 includes $585,900 for capital expenditures.
Nonetheless, commissioners pressed Kilpatrick and Cochran-Davis on the $25 million plan, developed over the last three years with considerable public input, asking them to justify the outlined expense of rehabilitating and improving the park.
“This park is falling apart. The infrastructure is falling apart,” Cochran-Davis said.
She went on to explain that the proposed improvements to the park — the master plan calls for enhancing basketball, tennis and gymnastics facilities and augmenting them with a wellness component in addition to streetscape, parking and sidewalk enhancements — should be done in tandem with more basic infrastructure improvements.
The lack of a broad master plan “just kicks the stone down the road” in terms of improving the park, Cochran-Davis suggested.
Commissioners, though, wondered why such a substantial outlay should be assigned to a single park.
“It’s not fair to these other areas [of the county] that might want a wellness center or covered basketball courts,” Commissioner Mike Hamby said. “I’m not going to spend $25 million on one park.”
The proposed master plan for Bishop Park is scheduled to get further review at the commission’s July 18 agenda-setting session, with a possible vote at the Aug. 1 voting meeting.