Two weeks ago, the Lowndes County Recreation Department opened the little playground located just south of the New Hope Community Center, next to New Hope High School.
The brightly-colored new playground equipment, sitting on a 32-by-50-foot plot in the middle of a walking path, is one of the few playgrounds in the New Hope area.
But what distinguishes The New Hope Community Center Park from all the others in the area is a matter of how it got built and where.
The story begins not in New Hope, but at the Lowndes County Soccer Complex in downtown Columbus more than two years ago, when what was then the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority applied for a grant from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks to build a playground. The proposal was rejected.
Roger Short, who was the director of the CLRA, was surprised by the rejection, setting into motion what would ultimately become the playground in New Hope.
“They told us that we weren’t eligible for the grant because we have violated the terms of an earlier grant,” Short said Monday. “We had no idea.”
In June 2015, Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders explained the situation for the board.
As it turns out, the county had earned a grant from the MDWFP to build a baseball field at New Hope High School.
“Because it was built with grant money, it had to be open to the public,” Short said. “But after the high school did all the work out there, they weren’t real happy about the public coming out there and using it. So they locked it up to keep people off the field. It wasn’t anything deliberate on the school’s part. They just didn’t know it was a violation to lock it up.”
Sanders told the board the county could expect no future grants from the MDWFP unless it resolved the problem. At first, Sanders suggested simply giving the land on which the baseball field was located to the school district, but that proved to be an illegal transaction.
So Sanders proposed a land swap, giving the school district the baseball field in exchange for the three-acre parcel where a walking path, and now a playground, are located.
“I think it turned out pretty well,” Sanders said.
Now, a little more than two years since the failed grant request, the playground is open for business.
“I do think it will get a lot of use,” said Short, now the Lowndes County Recreation Department interim director. “There aren’t really many playgrounds around here that I can think of. There’s one at Lake Lowndes and I think a couple of schools have some playground equipment, but that’s about it.”
The playground cost $25,000, which includes the playground equipment from Southeast Mississippi School Products, the fall-safe — a special non-chemical wood chip product — a concrete path from the community center parking lot and park benches on all four sides of the playground.
“The idea is that moms could let their children play on the playground when they came out to walk,” Short said. “But so far, they’re staying and siting on the benches, so I’m glad we put them in.”
As for the proposed playground at the soccer complex, Sanders said they haven’t abandoned that idea yet.
“We’re still working on that,” he said.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.