City must decide what to do with spray park, old school

March 9th, 2020     Featured General News

Problems with the spray park, what to do about B. F. Ford School, and a proposed $13.5-million bond issue for utility department improvements were among items New Albany aldermen discussed at their March meeting.

The spray park, more than a dozen years old, was championed by late Ward Three Alderman Tommie Beasley as a recreation means for children since the city does not have a public pool. In fact, the park is named in his honor.

However, because of its age and design, the spray park is in need of repair to pumps and motors.

Pool business owner Jason Butler reported that replacing and repairing them will cost about $38,000. However, the pumps and motors need to be moved into some sort of above-ground structure as well, which would add to the cost.

A problem is that the spray park was constructed with the equipment in a compartment underground, which causes the motors and pumps to overheat, and also is susceptible to water entering the area. That’s because of the proximity to the Tallahatchie River and that the area is prone to flooding.

The options are to repair the park, get rid of it, or replace it with something much nicer. A much nicer replacement would cost $300,000 to $500,000, Mayor Tim Kent said. Most aldermen did not want to get rid of the spray park because it does serve a need and draws attendees from Tupelo, Oxford and surrounding counties.

Later, Mayor Kent said they probably will try to get the park to last through this summer season, even if it means opening it for a shorter time or cutting hours, and then budget money to do what is needed in the next fiscal year.

The spray park is usually open from Memorial Day to Labor Day with general admission during the week and other times reserved for parties.

Municipal clerk Frankie Roberts was working on a spreadsheet to highlight the revenues and costs for the park. A decision will have to be made soon because repairs will take at least a month if they are decided on.

The question of what to do with B. F. Ford School has come up several times lately, in connection with a National Park Service study, and student project as well as being brought up Tuesday.

Cheryl Davis, granddaughter of the late B. F. Ford, presented a proposal to aldermen for Watson Grove Baptist Church to obtain the B. F. Ford school property.

David briefly recounted the history and importance of the school and her grandfather, saying, “He worked very hard to wipe out illiteracy.”

The proposal is for the church to establish a non-profit foundation to operate the school as a multi-cultural development center for the community.

Unlike other school campuses in New Albany, the B. F. Ford property, originally an African-American school and later an integrated elementary school, is owned by the city.

The school now houses the Head Start program and is used for storage and maintenance. The separate gym building is home to the Boys and Girls Club.

City attorney Regan Russell was to investigate whether the city could give the property to the church or otherwise transfer it.

There was some concern over whether the church could raise the money necessary to renovate the school, particularly since it has both asbestos and mold in it. On the other hand, the city has no plans for it or money on hand to do the renovation needed.

A decision may be ready by the next board meeting.

The bond issue had not been brought up in an alderman’s meeting before, but the projects it will fund have been discussed for some time.

Light, gas and water manager Bill Mattox said the issue would provide up to $13.5 million, which would be mostly repaid by the various departments that would benefit from it. If one department was having a better year it might pay slightly more, and vice-versa.

Part of the money will be used to pay for the purchase and renovation of the former Fred’s building, which will be used by the light, gas and water and police departments. Because the utility department had already been planning a new facility it will be easier financially for that department technically to lease the building to the city.

Another use for the money will be for the purchase and installation of remote reading electric meters. They will be easier to use and will not require a person to manually read them each month. Mattox said they will save money and go a long way toward paying for their cost.

The third use will be to replace the electric substation at the intersection of Hwy. 348 and Substation Road. The new substation will be moved away from proximity to the TVA substation and because the present substation is so old and obsolete the new one will reduce and better isolate power outages.

The city board approved the issue.

In a related issue, the board also approved sending out requests for qualifications so an architect can be hire for the Fred’s renovation project.

In other business, Community Development Director Billye Jean Stroud recommended that the city hire Emily Draffen of Memphis to be the new Special Events and Program Manager for the Magnolia Civic Center. Stroud said Draffen was the best-qualified candidate and has a background in theatre and event planning. She is expected to begin her duties with the civic center and assisting in the community development office April 1.

Not on the agenda, some of the Junior Aldermen, New Albany students selected to follow and learn about board duties and responsibilities, reported on projects they have chosen for the city.

One project was to have the B. F. Ford School designated a historical landmark in hopes that would aid in raising funds to renovate and make better use of the school.

A second was to urge city officials to further investigate building or designating one or more public shelters in the city for use in severe weather or other emergencies.

They told aldermen about structural requirements and possible sources of funding including a federal pre-disaster mitigation program and even online Go Fund Me as a source.

The third project involves creating art around the city, including renovating the existing murals and also adding other to large exterior business walls.

A story published this past week reported that aldermen also discussed a possible street repair and overlay plan for the year. They will make recommendations for streets that need work in each district and then set priorities and divide the approximately $1.1 million that will be available.

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