drew Shurley

Drew Shurley dribbles upfield in the soccer league at the Monroe County Rec Department in the fall. (File photo/Cassie Davis)

Monroe County Commissioners put on hold indefinitely renovations to the Monroe County Recreation Department, saying the current fields could be harmed by the Georgia Department of Transportation’s (DOT) future I-75 truck lanes.

Commissioners asked Curtis Reynolds, project manager for Forsyth-based Harbin Engineering, to meet with DOT officials to determine the effect the proposed I-75 expansion project could have on the department. Reynolds and recreation director Landon Sparks proposed $667,352 in improvements at the rec park during commissioners’ Jan. 7 meeting, but commissioners balked on approving the enhancements until they got more information about the truck lanes.

Reynolds said DOT officials told him the final design for the truck lanes and acquisition of needed right-of-way would be completed by the end of 2024 with an anticipated opening of the lanes in 2028. Reynolds said there are no project plans available yet but said he was told that the proposed lanes shouldn’t get any closer than 60 to 70 feet from the existing outfield fences on the current baseball fields. He said one option to extend the amount of space between the fields and the interstate would be to move the outfield fences in from 300 feet to 275 feet.

Reynolds then urged commissioners to move forward with the recreation park improvements, which would include laser grading, irrigation and new fencing at all existing fields as well as the addition of a third multi-purpose field. Frontier Electric and Mechanical, Inc. was the low bidder out of four bids on the project.

Between the 2014 and 2020 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds dedicated to recreation, the county has just under $1.05 million to spend, and the proposed improvements would eat up more than half of the available monies.

Despite Reynolds’ findings from DOT, commission chairman Greg Tapley said he’s still concerned about the proximity of I-75 to the new fields, citing worries about safety and liability. District 4 commissioner George Emami said he’s worried about the price tag of the improvements and urged Sparks to find out whether other governments that have expanded their recreation department have gotten a return on their investment from travel tournaments. District 1 commissioner Larry Evans asked Sparks whether laser grading could be left out of the contract, but Sparks replied that some fields have major drainage issues that need fixing. He said rainfall that occurred nearly three days earlier, on Saturday evening, still rendered some fields unplayable on Tuesday morning.

In addition, Reynolds provided commissioners with options for expansion of the recreation park onto 114 adjacent acres the county bought in 2016. If commissioners approved the full proposal, which includes a multi-purpose agricultural facility and an indoor pool, the park expansion would cost $23.2 million, which is more than the county collects in a single six-year SPLOST. Reynolds said opening a second park entrance off Fairview Church Road to accommodate the proposed new section would cost an estimated additional $750,000.

After about 45 minutes of discussion, Tapley said he wants the recreation department improvements postponed until commissioners learn where the proposed truck lanes will begin. Tapley said City of Forsyth and Monroe County leaders have urged DOT to start the lanes at the I-75 North weigh station, just north of the park, so that the expansion won’t impact city businesses. When Reynolds reminded Tapley that a final design wouldn’t be ready until 2024, Tapley said he thinks he’ll receive an answer about where the truck lanes will begin sometime in 2020. Commissioners then took no action on the proposed recreation park improvements.