Fort Mill airs options for growing parks & rec to keep up with population

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comMay 22, 2014 

Thomas Spratt

— Budget discussions in Fort Mill will include money for a parks and recreation master plan study.

On Wednesday the town’s Parks and Recreation committee met to plan for projected tripling in residential growth in coming decades. Members asked Town Manager Dennis Pieper to include funding for a parks and recreation consultant in upcoming town budget talks.

Parks and Recreation Director Brown Simpson said the town’s population is growing; it’s now close to 11,000. “I think it’s going to continue to grow.”

This spring, Simpson’s department offered soccer, basketball, volleyball, baseball and softball for 1,050 players. Spring basketball had 240 players by itself, up 33 percent from last year. The town used every field it has, including two new ones at Doby Bridge Park, and partnerships with school fields. Fort Mill last year invested more than $1 million upgrading Doby Bridge Park, once just a baseball park, but now a multi-use facility.

“We would be in trouble now if we didn’t have those two extra fields over at Doby’s Bridge,” Simpson said.

As the town plans for more participation, leaders also plan for less on the facilities end. Committee Chairman Tom Spratt said his group has to think about worst-case scenarios, including the loss of four fields and swimming pools at the privately owned Recreation Complex on the Greenway, which used to be called the Leroy Springs Recreation Complex.

“Unfortunately we don’t know what the future of the complex is,” Spratt said. “We can’t control that.”

The town began its athletic department about a decade ago, previously relying on the Leroy Springs Recreation Complex for programming. More than four years ago, the town entered a partnership with Leroy Springs & Co., which owns the complex, to field sports leagues. That arrangement has less than six years remaining.

“That’s going to go by quick,” Councilman Tom Adams said.

Officials said the town doesn’t have the money or the borrowing ability, based on what similar facilities cost elsewhere, to construct something like the complex if its owners choose to close it. A public referendum, impact fee revenue or something else would be needed.

“It’s enormous to try to replicate that,” said Councilwoman Guynn Savage.

In addition to playing fields, the complex has a competition-size swimming pool; tennis, basketball and racquetball courts; a weight room; sauna; and rooms for classes.

Even with all the younger players coming into the town’s sports programs, it’s “a little short-sighted” to focus just on fields or even youth sports, Savage said. Swimming, tennis and other “multi-generational” sports are recreation needs, too.

“I want to make certain we’re serving our entire community,” Savage said.

There are some causes for optimism.

The town received 25 acres as part of the Waterside on the Catawba development that will have road access by the end of 2017. There’s space for fields at the new Riverview Elementary School and numerous partnerships to use school fields and gyms.

“Those partnerships are vital because we don’t want to double tax people,” Spratt said.

Town leaders want to talk with Tega Cay, York County and the Fort Mill School District to see if there are load-sharing opportunities to fund recreation needs. They’re looking at fee structures and corporate sponsorships for facilities, similar to some in Rock Hill.

“It’s out there,” Savage said. “We just have to want it enough to get it. To me it’s wrong to the taxpayer not to consider it.”

Other cost savings could come, Simpson said, with smart planning like using synthetic turf for new fields. Turf fields pre-lined for sports like soccer, football and lacrosse can help with maintenance costs, he said.

“That will save us in the long run a lot of money, having turf fields,” Simpson said.

The town has some information on parks and recreation needs, including in its most recent comprehensive plan. Leaders hope a consultant can provide needed answers before new residents or lost facilities create a problem.

With the number of volunteer coaches and other factors, Adams said he sees why so many people are interested in local recreation and hopes to keep it a selling point for the community.

“It’s what makes this a great place to live,” Adams said. “People get involved. People get invested.”

John Marks •  803-831-8166

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