Council Cuts into Recreation Plan

WINNSBORO – Following an extensive executive session Monday night, County Council cut a swath through their $3.5 million recreation plan, shrinking a plan that has been, since its debut last year, more than $627,000 over budget down to more than $1.78 million under budget.

With a unanimous vote, Council eradicated recreation projects in districts 1, 5 and 7, while trimming the District 6 plan to the installation of a walking trail and football field lights at Drawdy Park. Districts 2 and 3 have had their plans combined into a plan that will be limited to the construction of a community center, contingent upon the acquisition of property.

The only district to remain intact is District 4, which will finally see the construction of its long-awaited community center, as well as a walking trail and outdoor basketball court. That plan originally came in at an estimated $641,660.

The recreation plan, which under its original estimate came in at a staggering $4,127,346, has now been slashed to $1,719,954.

The public safety components of the plan – a fire/EMS station in Jenkinsville and a fire station in Ridgeway – will proceed as planned, at a cost of $2,196,722.

The town of Ridgeway, which turned itself inside out earlier this year debating the merits of moving its proposed community center from near a County recycling center on Highway 21 at Smallwood Road to the vacant lot where the old Ridgeway School once stood at the corner of Church and Means streets, will not have to worry about those merits again for some time.

Efforts to locate the facility in town failed on a 2-3 vote last March after much heated debate. Under the revised plan, Ridgeway will see a new fire station, but recreation will have to wait.

“They do want something, and I want them to have something,” District 1 Councilman Dan Ruff said, adding that location of the facility had nothing to do with the choices Council had to make. “No matter what I would have done, it wouldn’t have passed right now. It’s still going to happen, just not right now. There are several huge expenses standing in the way.”

Relocating the Courthouse temporarily to the HON Building, renovating the Courthouse, then moving back in from the HON Building, as well as repairing the Detention Center roof are just two of those huge expenses, Ruff said. Bridging the gap between the $1.1 million in bond money and the nearly $2.2 million estimated for the fire and EMS stations is another, District 7 Councilman Billy Smith said.

“Some of that $3.5 million (recreation budget) is going to have to be redirected to the fire and EMS portion of the plan,” Smith said. “Our priority was on the public safety projects.”

Ruff said that while the County was waiting on recreation to come back around on their to-do list, the School District has agreed to make available facilities at Geiger Elementary School for some County recreation activities.

District 1 had originally planned on a community center near Ridgeway, as well as an outdoor basketball court, for a total of $617,017. District 2, a community center and a combination EMS/recycling facility for $573,333. District 3, four playgrounds, equipment and a basketball court for $499,337. District 5, four playgrounds and equipment, three picnic shelters, two walking trails and a basketball court for $641,660. District 6, conversion of former County maintenance facility into a fitness center, lighting for fields, walking trails and a picnic shelter for $509,629. District 7, improvements to the genealogy building, basketball court, baseball/softball field, picnic shelter and restroom facilities for $644,440.

With the project debuting last September at $627,346 over budget, paring down the individual wish lists was also a real possibility in the original plan.

“This is not the end of the discussion about recreation in Fairfield County,” Smith said. “We were going to have to compromise. Maybe we can fund one or two (projects) now, determine how they’re going to work out, how successful they’re going to be, before we spend the whole pot of money on it. It was the best thing we could do at the time, all things considered.”