A committee wants guidance from consultants before deciding how much to spend on parks and recreational-based projects associated with the Elevate Tuscaloosa plan.

That was the consensus reached Thursday by the Parks and Recreation Subcommittee of the Elevate Tuscaloosa Advisory Council, which met a day after the Cultural Arts and Tourism subcommittee held its first meeting at the Tuscaloosa River Market.

This group of volunteers was formed by Mayor Walt Maddox to help decide how best to commit $150 million in proceeds from the recent sales tax increase toward capital-based projects as laid out in the Elevate Tuscaloosa plan.

The subcommittee voted to recommend that the full advisory council commit $1.4 million toward immediate needs at the McDonald Hughes Community Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

But it wants master plans developed for the McDonald Hughes, Snow Hinton Park and the McAbee Activity Center on Loop Road before recommending any further spending.

“We, as a team, certainly agree with that,” Maddox said.

These decisions came after hearing presentations on the needs for all three locations now managed by the Tuscaloosa County Park and Recreation Authority.

Executive Director Gary Minor said budgetary struggles have led to “deferred maintenance” needs for each facility, with $2.05 million needed for McDonald Hughes and $2.35 million needed for Snow Hinton Park alone.

“Our community is growing,” Minor said, “but our funding is dropping.”

Of the needs associated with the McDonald Hughes Community Center, the subcommittee members agreed to recommend $1.5 million in Elevate Tuscaloosa proceeds for a series of immediate needs at the facility.

This total will fund a loading canopy near the building so people can exit vehicles safely in case of the rain, flooring for the new gymnasium inside the 1,700-person capacity storm shelter, an indoor playground and restroom upgrades, among other needs.

But for the remaining costs, as well as those associated with improving Snow Hinton Park and the McAbee Center, the subcommittee wants guidance from professionals, such as those who showed how a master plan led to the comprehensive development of a park in Georgia.

The cost for these three plans could range between between $50,000 and $100,000 each, officials said, and will include not only upgrades but how to maintain them in the future.

“This is a choice of paying for PARA’s neglect — or deferred maintenance — or a chance to do something special for McDonald Hughes,” said Chris England, a state representative and lawyer in the Tuscaloosa Office of the City Attorney who serves as co-chair of the Advisory Council.

The subcommittee also agreed to recommend $500,000 of Elevate Tuscaloosa proceeds toward the construction of an all-inclusive playground at Munny Sokol Park.

The park, estimated to take three phases and cost more than $3.4 million to complete, will cater to all children of Tuscaloosa County, of which about 20,000 are dealing with some form of physical or mental challenge.

“What we’re looking at is a unique opportunity for the city to invest in,” said Barry Mason, president PARA Foundation’s board of directors, which is spearheading the funding for the all-inclusive playground. “We’re committed to doing whatever it takes to succeed.”

Residents also can help with the funding of the park by purchasing butterflies that will be engraved with a name or message and made part of the park’s construction. These will cost $250 and more information is available at PARA’s website, www.tcpara.org.

As envisioned, the all-inclusive park will feature elements influenced by key areas of Tuscaloosa, including the Black Warrior River, Bryant-Denny Stadium, Denny Chimes and the Bama Theatre.

But its main goal is to provide an area where children of all abilities can play together, officials said.

“To me, this is a no-brainer,” said Brendan Moore, executive director of the city’s Urban Development department and leader of the Elevate Tuscaloosa Leadership Team, which consists of eight department heads within City Hall. “We think this is a great partnership opportunity, and it’s what Elevate is all about.” 

 

Reach Jason Morton at jason.morton@tuscaloosanews.com or 205-722-0200.