The History of Evans Towne Center Park
The initial idea of a major park in Evans actually started in 2004 when people would call the Commission office looking for permission to use the vacant land. It was nice of them to ask, but the problem was that we did not own the land. While County residents used the property for many things, it belonged to the American Medicorp Development Company – or to us – Doctors Hospital. I began to watch the use of the land and noted the many activities that took place and began to think more and more that this property should belong to the people of the County. In our Planning Advance in late 2004, I approached the Commission to see if there was support to pursue the purchase of the property.
Some were hesitant because of the expected high expense and the possibility that the owner would not agree to sell, but finally they agreed that it was a good idea and we talked to the owners. After several meetings, the officials of Doctors Hospital finally agreed that it would be good for the County to own this property and the wheels started to turn to get appraisals, settle on a price, and find the money for the purchase. One of the best things about being a County of sound financial condition is the ability to fund projects from the General Fund without affecting our bond rating or raising taxes and that is exactly what we did. We then planned to repay the General Fund with monies from the 2005-2010 SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) if the voters approved and they did.
We then had seventeen acres of very valuable property with no plan and no money for improvements. However, we did have some budgeted monies for engineering and hired a park consultant from Atlanta to assist us in a design. In 2007, we also formed a Park Committee of local citizens to meet with the consultants to express what they would like to see in the finished product. As so often happens, what we wanted and what we could afford were vastly different. An estimated price by the consultant of eight million dollars left us disheartened and discouraged. After a month or so of pondering and study, I decided that our in-house group of engineers could take the basic design and develop it to suit the needs of the County. My charge to the group was to complete a plan that would allow all of the present uses of the land to continue and to make it attractive to a much larger percentage of the County population at about one-half of the original estimate. They worked on it and got a local engineer to complete a concept plan, and it was presented to the Commission as an item for the 2010-2016 SPLOST referendum. Once again, the voters gave their approval, and we retained a local engineering firm to complete bid documents to begin actual construction in late 2010.
–CHAIRMAN RON CROSS
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS, THANKS, & KUDOS!!!
Terry Gunn & Shane George: These two executives of Doctors Hospital made it possible for Columbia County to purchase the park property. Steve Szablewski, County Administrator: Without his leadership, this project would never have happened. Nobody assembles SPLOST projects and handles money as good as Steve. Marilyn Heuer: As an assistant to Steve and Public Relations Manager, Marilyn kept track of all discussions, concepts, plans, meetings, budgets, and even thoughts that were sometimes forgotten. That is not easy over a five year span. Scott Johnson: As Deputy Administrator Scott brought a lot of fresh ideas and has been instrumental in seeing the project to completion. Commission: The commissioners of Columbia County who have supported this project: Tommy Mercer, Steve Brown, Diane Ford, Lee Anderson, Ron Thigpen, Trey Allen, Charles Allen, and Bill Morris. JJ&G of Atlanta: Thanks for their initial design and even though we could not afford it, it was a great design and gave us a place to start. The Evans Towne Center Park Committee: Thanks for their input. Stacie Adkins, Trey Allen, Jeanie Brandon, Steve Brown, Preston Duffie, Lawrence Hammond, Don Lawrence, Alice Padgett, Barry Paschal, Larry Robinette, and Barry Smith. They did not get all they wanted but their initial work was invaluable. In-House Design Group:Preston Duffie, Scott Herring, Ronnie Hutto, Nayna Mistry, Paul Scarbury, Matt Schlachter, and Barry Smith. Their redesign of the original concept was excellent. Matt Schlachter is now County Engineer. EMC Consultants: Their free drawing of the concept plan was greatly appreciated. JLA Consultants: A great job of taking concept drawings and developing construction documents and overseeing construction by Darren Prickett. Dabbs-Williams Construction: They did a great job with construction and were cooperative in every respect. Four Seasons Landscaping: Great job of beautifying the grounds and many thanks to George Fuller, Jr. for donation of the flag pole. The most appreciation of all goes to the citizens and voters of Columbia County who continue to support us and trust us to make the most efficient use of their taxpayer dollars. It has been, and continues to be, our vision and dream that this park be a focal point for Columbia County to be enjoyed by all and also to be a venue for top level entertainment for our citizens.
Chairman Ron C. Cross