After immense pushback from the Needmore community, there are no longer plans in the works to remove the basketball court or to build a dog park at George Evans Park.
The proposed changes to George Evans Park were to be part of a comprehensive, $16 million overhaul of George Evans, Moncrief, McKee and J.L. King parks that was announced in late 2021. Originally, plans included removing the basketball court and building a 7,000 square-foot dog park, a proposal that drew backlash from Needmore residents.
The board is still planning to move forward with other parts of phase 1 of park renovations, which includes significant downsizing of the Needmore community center, a plan that remains a point of concern for Needmore residents.
“For those of you who are here about Needmore, let me assure you — I think we’ve said it on a couple of different occasions — that the dog park is no longer part of the plan,” Mayor Lynn Spruill said during Tuesday’s board of aldermen meeting at City Hall. “The basketball court is also going to stay.”
This change in the plans for George Evans Park happened prior to Tuesday’s meeting. However, many concerned residents of the Needmore community filled the courtroom to express their concerns about the board’s plans for the park, unaware of the new developments.
“I’m speaking on behalf of the NAACP, the community and concerned citizens. The concerns are if a dog park is going to be constructed there, or in the future, we absolutely do not want to see a dog park there,” said Yulanda Haddix during the citizen comment period.
Ten citizens implored the board to reconsider their plans for the park. Ethel Shine, who led the public appearance on behalf of the Needmore community, presented a petition with more than 200 signatures against proposed park changes. Part of that petition focused on adding more square footage to the new community center — which is planned to be about half the size of the existing center slated to be torn down.
In a deviation from protocol, Aldermen Jeffrey Rupp (Ward 3) and Hamp Beatty (Ward 5) then engaged the public directly to reassure the citizens there would be no dog park at George Evans Park.
“Are y’all OK with that? Because, I know we’ve tried to say that but I don’t think — there’s been some, perhaps, skepticism,” Rupp said. “And given the political climate these days I understand the skepticism. But we want you to really feel comfortable that we mean that about the dog park. Are we OK?”
Public response was halted by Spruill, who in accordance with procedure asked the board not to engage in “audience back and forth.”
The board had moved along to the public hearings portion of the meeting when Beatty piped up with a question for the public.
“Are y’all satisfied with the answers we’re giving you right now?” he asked. “We can be like nine blocks of ice up here sometimes. I’ve been on the other side of that podium and spoken and I understand where you’re coming from when you approach a board like us. Did we address some of the concerns y’all had?”
Shine responded to express the remaining issue Needmore residents have with the board’s plans, the downsizing of the community center.
“Yes sir, you have addressed some of the concerns that we had but as you know, the current community center is 6,000 square feet. The new proposed building is 3,000 square feet. And we would like for it to remain the same size or maybe even make it bigger,” Shine said.
The downsizing, among other things, would push out an early childhood education program.
Needmore citizens then exited the courtroom to speak privately with a representative from Kimley-Horn, the firm tasked with redesigning the community center.
Haddix spoke with The Dispatch after the board’s open session concluded.
“My concern with downsizing the community center is that we have four early childhood development centers in Starkville, and all of them are dilapidated,” she said. “So, I just want to know how they chose that building because if you look at the other ones — the Boys and Girls club, the J.L. King Center — those buildings are horrible. None of the early childhood development buildings are in good shape at all.”
Earlier in the meeting Spruill described the Needmore community center as beyond renovation per the city building inspector.
“That’s my concern,” Haddix said. “Don’t destroy what’s already working for us.”
Haddix plans to get the Needmore community on the historical registry to hopefully prevent unwanted changes from being proposed or implemented in the future.