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County adds land for planned rec complex
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As the master plan has its finishing touches applied, Effingham County will have plenty of room for its anticipated central recreation complex.

County commissioners, in two separate votes last Tuesday, agreed to acquire an additional 43 acres for a $360,000 total. With the purchases, there are now nearly 120 acres for a central recreation complex off Highway 21 and Ralph Rahn Road.

“We have enough property where we can take this county to for several more years for recreation,” said Chairman Wendall Kessler.

Effingham County Recreation and Parks director Clarence Morgan and recreation board chairman Craig Johnson hailed the purchases of the additional tracts.

“It’s great,” Morgan said.

The county completed a transaction in December with the Bank of Newington for nearly 76 acres off Highway 21. With the two other parcels, the land now could have access from Highway 21 and Ralph Rahn Road.

Morgan and Johnson said the master plan is close to completion and they both said people they have talked with are excited about the prospect of a larger, central facility.

The need for land was spurred by the inability of the rec department to enlarge its current Highway 119 facility to accommodate expected growth. The facilities there also are aging and require more maintenance.

CHA Sports proposed a central facility with baseball and softball fields, fields for soccer and football, covered and lighted batting cages and picnic pavilions. There also would be parking for 450 vehicles and a playground accessible to those with disabilities.

“We’re ready,” Johnson said.

“And the people are ready,” Morgan added.

The larger complex also may give the county recreation department room to add items that had been dropped from consideration from the master plan.

“One thing it’ll do, those projects in phase 4, like the dog park and the splash pad, will become reality because we do have the property,” Johnson said.

The initial master plan proposed calls for the second phase of the central complex to be built from 2017-22 and a third phase to go into effect from 2022-24. County officials are hoping to fund those expansions through an extension of the special purpose local option sales tax.

Johnson and Morgan also noted the last few months have been big for the ECRP, including the department’s first state football championship.

“It just keeps getting better,” Johnson said. “The end of 2014 has been a great year for the recreation department, maybe the best seven months in the rec department’s 40 years.”

The purchases Tuesday also allow the county to turn the land adjacent to Highway 21 into commercial property.

“This gives us versatility with the frontage property,” Kessler said.

It also allows for a safe buffer from the much-traveled road and the action on the fields on the property, Morgan pointed out.

“Now, no one will hit a ball through someone’s window,” he said.