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City looks for county’s aid on park parking

POSTED: May 8, 2014 9:24 p.m.

Springfield officials asked Effingham County commissioners Tuesday if and when they could help with improvements around Ulmer Park.

City Manager Brett Bennett said it’s been several months since he last asked the county to consider working with the city on the project and he hasn’t heard anything back.

“I hadn’t seen any movement on the project in that amount of time,” he said. “I wanted to see if there was any possibility of moving forward. As stated at the last meeting, a ‘no’ answer is better than no answer.”

Bennett asked the county last November for assistance with the park, and the city and county agreed to work on a parking plan. Parking space is hard to find around the courthouse, especially on days when court is in session, and it affects how much parking there is at Ulmer.

“I think everyone agrees there is a need for improvement there,” Bennett said.

“One thing I have found is things move mighty slow,” said county commission Chairman Wendall Kessler. “I think the park project is good for the city of Springfield. I can honestly say that nothing is moving forward on the county’s end that would be in conjunction with the park. I don’t think there is any money the board is going to put into the park project until we can come to grips with parking.”

The idea, said county community relations director Adam Kobek, was to work on a building master plan.

“To date, we have not achieved any of those milestones,” he said.

Bennett told commissioners that whether the county decides to build a new administrative building, the parking issue still needs to be addressed.

“I think that’s where we mess up a lot of times as we move forward and don’t have the whole picture planned out,” he said.

Kessler said he has made no bones about wanting a new administrative building.

“This one is falling to pieces,” he said. “I am convinced, by the numbers I have run, that I can put all of government together in one building and save money, money to the tune to pay for one building. But then I get criticized for wanting to cut staff.”

Original cost estimates for the Ulmer Park promenade were approximately $780,000, and the county and city had a joint board looking at its possibilities. The city has approximately $400,000 targeted for Ulmer Park. A park concept plan was developed several years ago.

“We have SPLOST funds ready to go,” Bennett said.

The county has identified $350,000 to be used on Ulmer Park work from its short term work program.

“As far as a new administration building and tearing this building down, it’s zero (chance),” said Commissioner Reggie Loper. “As far as going forward with the park and tearing the old Treutlen Building down and helping out with parking, I have no problem with that.”

In their meeting last month, Springfield City Council members discussed their frustration with the lack of speed on parking matters.

“It’s a disaster,” Bennett said of the parking.

The Ulmer Park plans also included a play area for children with disabilities.

“That’s got to happen,” said council member Kenny Usher. “We need to keep this thing going. It’s just another piece of revitalizing Springfield.

Council member Charles Hinely urged going forward, regardless of the level of the county’s help.

“If we have to do it without their money, we ought to do it,” he said last month. “We need to do something with those squares, and we may need to do it ourselves.”

Springfield’s wastewater treatment plant and its sprayfield soon may be within its city limits.

Commissioners approved the city’s request for a resolution to annex nearly 104 acres into the city. Since the land does not touch the city’s boundaries, the commissioners have to consent to its annexation.

The city made a significant made a significant investment several years ago, Bennett said, to run a water line from the “green zone,” where groundwater withdrawals are not under state Environmental Protection Division restrictions, to the Effingham Industrial Park.

“We spent $4 million improving the wastewater treatment plant,” he said. “We feel it’s important to own the property and protect the investment we made.”

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