Lowndes County supervisors narrowly voted to proceed with a plan for a sportsplex, but not without a fair amount of sticker shock.
By a 3-2 vote, the board approved a motion from Ward 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders to advertise bids for a project that would include eight synthetic turf fields and a playground/restroom/concession stand area, one of two options presented by architect Joey Henderson, who estimated the cost at $15 million.
“I know this is just an estimate, but I would recommend we go ahead and put it out for bids and see what the quotes are,” Sanders said. “At that point, if it comes in too much, we can say no. I think we’re wasting time just sitting here beating this dead horse. We’ve been trying to do this for three years. Let’s put it out for bids and see what the numbers are.”
District 3 Supervisor John Holliman, who seconded Sanders’ motion, agreed.
“I just want to know what the true costs are,” he said.
The board’s action comes 2 1/2 years after the county purchased 89 acres in the west part of the county for $840,000. The county made the first of its annual $100,000 payments on the purchase in November 2018.
Discussions on the use of the property stalled until May, when the county held a work session to consider six possible options ranging in estimated costs from $14 million to $29.5 million.
The most expensive of those proposals would have included eight baseball fields, an aquatic center/lazy river, two multi-purpose fields, a playground and an administration building.
The cheapest option featured five baseball fields, a walking trail, an administrative/multipurpose building and an emergency shelter at a cost of $14 million.
On Monday supervisors considered two options that were different from the original six plans — one for $15 million and another for $20 million.
Both featured eight baseball fields and a playground. The $20 million option included a multi-purpose gymnasium that could be used as an emergency shelter.
District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks, who along with District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith voted against putting out the project for bids, said he is concerned with both the costs and the lack of more facilities.
“Fifteen million dollars is a lot of money to spend on eight fields and a playground,” Brooks said. “The other thing is how we’re going to pay for it. If we use the hospital (trust fund) money, we’re tying that money up for 15 years. There may be some capital improvements down the road that we might want to use that money for.
“I don’t know what the end game is here,” he added. “I would be crazy not to support something in my district, but at the same time it has to be financially sound and make sense.”
Sanders said that other amenities could be added later.
“We would only be using about half the land,” he said. “If we wanted to come in later and add a walking trail, which is something the road department could probably do, or add aquatics or anything else, we could still do that later.”
Board President Trip Hairston noted that no matter what course the supervisors choose, the site preparation will be expensive.
“The dirt work alone is $5 million,” he noted. “There’s no getting around that.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]