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Rec complex master plan could be done soon
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Effingham County commissioners and recreation officials could get drawings in two weeks of what their proposed large central complex may look like.

Representative s from CHA Sports, which has been contracted to devise a master plan for the proposed central facility off Highway 21, met with commissioners, recreation board members and others to discuss the first phase of the park.

Depending on how soon plans are approved, put out to bid and contracts awarded, groundbreaking could take place in late fall.

“This is truly the beginning,” said King Evans of CHA Sports. “Our role is to show every idea we’ve ever done anywhere.”

The county purchased nearly 77 acres off Highway 21, near Ralph Rahn Road, last year and added two more parcels totaling more than 43 acres. CHA Sports had been hired last year to complete a 15-year plan for the Effingham County Recreation and Parks’ facilities.

“We’ve got land to serve us for a while,” said ECRP director Clarence Morgan.

An initial discussion spelled out a desire for five baseball/softball fields, along with lighting, batting cages and a pressbox/concession stand/restroom building in the first phase.

Bill Madsen of CHA Sports outlined the kinds of programs and fields the county may want to have on the complex. To design fields that are planned primarily for local play, orientation of the field — particularly where the sun hits the field — becomes a priority. For complexes that will be used mostly for tournaments, the pinwheel configuration is used, and it makes how the field is sited less of a priority.

“Some fields are not going to have an optimal orientation,” Madsen said.

The county is leaning toward a hybrid design that will serve both local teams and host tournaments. Madsen said they could include a pinwheel of five fields and a special-use stadium. Morgan said the ECRP projects to host six to 12 tournaments a year.

“We would love to have a weekend tournament,” he said. “But we know that’s not going to happen with the area we’re in and who we’ve got to compete with.”

Morgan pointed out that it takes more than 15 minutes for those at Sand Hill Park to get to such amenities as restaurants.

“If they didn’t have a quality tournament experience,” Madsen said, “they may not visit your facility again.”

Recreation board member Craig Johnson noted the new park could host tournaments for travel teams.

“We get a few of those,” he said.

Under consideration are seven 225-foot fields, one 315-foot field and three 335-foot fields.

“We need to make sure we have enough land for 2030 and 2040,” Morgan said.

The complex also may allow the ECRP to add to its offerings. Morgan said lacrosse is growing in popularity quickly.

“I think it will take off in the next three-to-four years,” he said. “Ultimate Frisbee is another thing that is going to catch on.”

With Baker Pond’s tennis courts in relatively close proximity to the Highway 21 property, Morgan did not foresee adding tennis courts to the planned park. Sand Hill, however, is next to get tennis courts, he said.

Morgan also said the ECRP always can use outdoor basketball courts, and Johnson said he has had inquiries about racquetball courts.

Commissioners, staff and ECRP staff and board members visited six recreation complexes to get an idea of what they liked and what they wanted to avoid in their plans. They went to Screven County, Augusta, Dublin, Statesboro’s Mill Creek, Waycross and Brunswick.

“When we went to Waycross, we adjusted our mindset a little bit,” Morgan said.

Other features that will need to be addressed include parking, security and playgrounds that are protected from foul balls and are Americans with Disabilities Act compliant.

“We talked about one inside the (fields) complex and the big daddy one outside the complex,” Johnson said.

Morgan also said there should be a lightning detection system and a public address system for the football fields that will be included. A maintenance building close enough to be of use but also not sticking out like an eyesore is the plans.

Dugouts and bleachers will be covered, and Johnson and Morgan said a covered seating area, that is part bleachers and part open to allow people to bring their own chairs, has been a big hit with visitors.

“It’s been popular,” Morgan said. “We get a ton of compliments.”

Added Madsen: “One thing we’re seeing is the need for shade out there.”

Evans said scoreboards are becoming obsolete, with coaches in dugouts keeping score on iPads through new applications, but Morgan said the scoreboards are needed when hosting Georgia Recreation and Parks Association events. The scoreboard for the new park will be provided through Coca-Cola and a $10,000 donation from the Bank of Newington.

Beyond bats and balls

Morgan said he had calls the day of the workshop about adding a dog park and the inclusion of a skate park also was suggested.

“We would have had a skate park at Sand Hill if the economy hadn’t tanked,” he said.

The plans for the central facility also call for a gymnasium with multi-purpose rooms. Because of basketball at the existing ECRP gym and lack of space there, Morgan said it is difficult to conduct year-round programs.

CHA Sports’ Karl Leabo said the gym also could have a climbing wall but there are issues with supervision on those structures.

If the county wanted to put in a walking/jogging track, an elevator is needed for the gym, Leabo said. The gym is projected to have a capacity of 400-500 spectators, using portable bleachers. There also will be concessions stands, bathrooms and offices.

Outside the playing fields portion, the county may put in a splash pad but not a spray pad.

Morgan also put forth the idea of a meeting space, something akin to Richmond Hill’s J.F. Gregory Park pavilion, with rooms at each end.

“We would love to have it,” he said.

Patrick Graham of CHA Sports said the firm will take its notes and start working on the layout for the first phase, bringing back its results at the next meeting, expected to happen next week. CHA Sports will have suggested layouts and get feedback on what county and recreation representatives like and don’t like.

“We need to assess all our needs and all our requests and work from that,” said commission Chairman Wendall Kessler.