Relocating Rec Site in Ridgeway’s Hands

County Reveals Possible Third Option

RIDGEWAY – Efforts to determine whether or not a proposed County recreation facility, planned for a plot of land on Highway 21 S. near Smallwood Road, could instead be built inside the Ridgeway town limits took another step forward last week when Town Council sat down with County representatives at the Century House.

Town Councilman Russ Brown brought the issue before Council during their Dec. 11 meeting when he said the Highway 21 S. location came as something of a surprise to him. The majority of his colleagues said they had also been unaware of the facility going up near the recycling center, and Brown has since advocated for bringing the project into town, preferably on the site once occupied by Town Hall on property at Church and Means streets.

Milton Pope, County Administrator, told Ridgeway during their Jan. 28 joint meeting that while the Highway 21 site was the last site approved by County Council, the Council could change that at any time before work begins. However, Pope added, such a change could come at a cost.

“The specific costs that we’re getting (for the construction) are related to this site,” Pope said, “so if there are changes in the plans that we have there may be costs associated with that.”

The County has earmarked $3.5 million from their 2013 $24 million bond issue for recreation, with $500,000 allocated for each of the County’s seven districts. When Brown said that some Ridgeway citizens, during comments at last month’s Council meeting, had questioned whether or not the County should be spending anything at all on recreation, Pope and Chairwoman Carolyn Robinson said the County was all-in on the projects.

“It’s almost unheard of,” Pope said, “you don’t turn bond money back in. There has been no discussion as of yet to change or amend this portion of the bond of the $3.5 million for recreational purposes.”

“I think Council is definitely committed to this,” Robinson said, “and that part of the bond is only committed to recreation and nothing else. It can’t be used for anything else.”

Responding to Mayor Charlene Herring’s question of the County owning versus leasing land on which the recreation center would stand, Pope said the County would prefer owning any property on which it was “going to make a sizeable investment.”

Robinson said that if the move were made from Highway 21 to Church and Means streets and the County were to assume ownership of the Town’s property there, a clause could be built into the agreement stating that, should the County ever cease using the property for recreation that property would revert back to Ridgeway.

Town Councilman Donald Prioleau told the County that it might actually be less expensive to construct the facility on the Church and Means street site. The Highway 21 site, Prioleau said, would require a lot of tree removal and grading. The site in town, he said, specifically the portion of the property where the former Town Hall sat, was essentially ready to build.

While the Highway 21 site has water, he added, the site did not have any sewer connection available, “so you’re going to have to build a sewage station,” Prioleau said. The property in town, he said, had both water and sewer available, and the Town might be amenable to donating the water tap.

Prioleau also said that in spite of some concerns expressed by citizens, there was plenty of space on the Church and Means street site for the facility.

“We had three buildings over there,” Prioleau said, “the school building, the auditorium and the gym. So if we went back with one building, I know the space can handle it. There’s plenty of space in that area (where the old Town Hall was).”

A Third Option

County Councilman Dan Ruff, who represents District 1, said he personally did not have a preference on which site the facility went. But he did say he had received feedback from the community.

“People that have come to me, in town and out of town, prefer it out of town somewhere,” Ruff said, “but just about all of them don’t like the site by the recycling center. Most of them that I’ve talked to don’t really want it in town, but they’d rather have it here than out there.”

Ruff also said a third alternative may be available at Rufus Belton Park, which is located approximately 9 miles from town at 5087 Park Road. Ruff said the proposal at this point was “just talk,” but the site already has the necessary infrastructure, he said, as well as an existing ball field.

Brown, however, said he felt Ridgeway was more likely the most densely populated area of District 1.

“I understand the public’s concerns and the citizens’ concerns and I do value those opinions,” Brown said, “but overall is it going to be used if it’s very rural or is it going to be more practical to have it in an area where you also have utilities but also have access to higher (population) count and more visibility?”

The Next Move

Robinson said that before the County could act it would need an official recommendation from Ridgeway. But before that could happen, Ruff suggested that Town Council hold a public forum to poll citizens on their opinion.

“This will be the third meeting or fourth meeting, if I’m not mistaken, that we’ve had on this same issue,” Brown said, “so I don’t think it’s for a lack of meeting that people don’t know about it.”

But Herring agreed and the meeting adjourned with at least one more public meeting on the issue on Ridgeway’s plate before a decision is made.

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