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Town hall meetings to ask public about parks and recreation

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Last month, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners implemented a Parks and Recreation Advisory Board with hopes of gaining advice from the public regarding future park development and how current facilities can be improved.

From Feb. 25-28, the advisory board will host a series of town hall meetings at the county's recreation centers, the information from which will be used in Parks and Recreation's 10-year Comprehensive Master Plan.

The first meeting will be held at the Carl Rhodenizer Recreation Center on Monday, Feb. 25, the second at the Virginia Gray Recreation Center on Tuesday, Feb. 26, the third at the International Park VIP Complex on Wednesday, Feb. 27, and the fourth at the Jim Huie Recreation Center on Thursday, Feb. 28. Meetings will take place each night at 7 p.m.

Parks and Recreation Director Detrick Stanford said the meetings would serve as a "conduit" between the county and the people as to what direction the department should take in future development.

"In my experience, any initiative that is community-driven ... you have a better chance of moving forward with that initiative," said Stanford. The town hall meetings are "specifically geared to be part of the Comprehensive Master Plan to get feedback from the citizens. We're hoping that will be the drive.

"We're doing a better job of being proactive, as opposed to, reactive to the needs of the community," Stanford added.

BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell said the meetings will serve as a "valuable tool" and will allow the county's future parks and recreation plans to be "driven by the desires of the community at large rather than special interests.

"Too often, parks are built without the input of the community," said Bell. "These meetings will help close the loops of the 10-year development plan for our parks."

Bell said he hopes the advisory board will address safety concerns, such as moving Charley Griswell Park away from Government Circle and the gas tanks storing the fuel for the county's vehicles. He also hopes the plan will address connecting existing and future parks and recreation centers by public transportation.

"I've asked MARTA [the Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority] to look at all forms of transportation in Clayton County and they have agreed to do so," said Bell. "We want to become a transportation system for all the needs, instead of some."

Commissioner Wole Ralph said he hopes the advisory board will address funding alternatives to the recreation centers, which would make them less expensive for residents.

"Young people can't afford the fees," said Ralph. "That's why I think these town hall meetings are important. We can sit down with the community ... and find a fee structure that works."

Ralph said that he wants to explore the idea of allowing Boys and Girls Club of Metro Atlanta to operate one or more of the county's recreation centers, in order to offset the cost of admission.

Stanford said that citizens could also offer their input about the county's parks and recreation programs by taking an online survey at www.claytonparks.com.

"The advisory board will meet periodically to make sure that we are taking the steps to move in the direction that the citizens say we should be moving in," said Stanford.