July 11, 2018 10:49:53 AM
Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders can still remembers attending at a county fair in Sunflower County more than 40 years ago.
While county fairs are few and far between these days, he was reminded of that fair while visiting family in West Virginia a few years ago, where his niece's husband works as the county agent and who organized a fair.
Sanders said he was in awe of people all over the community coming together to express their talents or to find new ones.
Thus, the project of the Lowndes County Horse Park commenced.
"I got to thinking about how children in high school don't enter these anymore, which is why we're building (the park)," Sanders said. "Maybe we can get kids interested again in things we used to do when we were kids."
The park is located on a 22-acre site west of Columbus directly south of Highway 82 on Tom Rose Road, and Sanders hopes it will be the place in Lowndes County to hold horse shows, livestock shows, county fairs and other outdoor and agricultural activities.
The site currently houses the Lowndes County Extension Service office at 485 Tom Rose Road, which was completed in April 2017 using the $1.6 million The Legislature awarded the project. That total also funded site preparation work for the horse park.
Extension Agent Reid Nevins said the location has helped the department grow exponentially within the year, as well as give the department a place to actively work on their mission of teaching the community skills while focusing on the participation aspect of learning.
"(The building) has been a godsend," Nevins said. "Since we moved in during April of last year, we have had over 5,000 people walk through those doors. ... That's not phone calls, that's coming in the door and interacting and asking questions and participating."
The next phase is the horse park -- a planned 45,000 square-foot open-air arena, which is projected to be completed in 2019.
At its July 2 meeting, the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors approved bids for the next phase for $890,600. T&M Steel Erectors, a Columbus-based company, will handle construction.
The Mississippi Legislature initially approved $1.2 million for the project in 2015 when construction on the horse park first began, and another $400,000 the next year. However, legislators did not approve additional funding in 2017 or 2018, leaving the county to pay the remaining costs through interest accrued from its hospital sale trust fund.
Lowndes County Engineer Robert Calvert said he was happy with the $890,600 bid amount supervisors approved.
"We got some real tight bids," Calvert said at a recent board meeting. "We never thought we'd get them that low."
The construction is set to begin before the end of the board's fiscal year, which is Oct. 1. According to Calvert, the county has to order to start construction and haul in additional dirt before building continues.
The entrance road paving improvement bids from APAC-Mississippi Inc. were also accepted at about $156,000. This includes the process of paving, the asphalt needed and the erosion control materials needed in order to complete the access road, which is nearly complete, along with part of the parking lot.
"This will mainly be used for rodeo show horses ... the EMCC rodeo team doesn't have a place to host rodeos," said Sanders. "They've agreed to host their rodeos at our arena. That's going to draw in a lot of tourist dollars. ... It's going to get used."
Nevins plans for the arena to be a communal space to use for equine purposes when not in use for events.
"A lot of people don't have access to covered arenas to take their horses to practice," Nevins said. "Right now, we don't have anything in the county to use. We have private places where we've had shows in the past, but this is something (the county) can take ownership in."
Nevins has no doubt that the addition of the arena will be a game-changer for the county.
"The sky's the limit, let's just put it that way," Nevins said.