Officials from Columbus and Lowndes County are taking steps to expand and improve their parks systems, after the city and county split from the Columbus-Lowndes Recreational Authority in 2017 to begin running their own departments.
The city is planning $1.6 million in upgrades to four baseball fields at Propst Park that will surround a public and privately funded Field of Dreams project for players with special needs.
Meanwhile, Lowndes County is completing a $350,000 Concorde Community Center off Nashville Ferry Road, has installed a playground within the walking track at New Hope Community Center and is partnering with the Junior Auxiliary of Columbus for another playground at the county-owned soccer complex in downtown Columbus.
Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders said the county also is negotiating with Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to take over Lake Lowndes State Park. If a deal is struck, the county would manage the four baseball fields, a football field, tennis court and gymnasium at the site, as well as the lake.
After completing $4.5 million ($750,000 per ward) in street improvements in 2017, Columbus Mayor Robert Smith said the city plans to complete another $3 to $4 million this year. Those projects entail paving, milling, striping, curb-and-gutter work and sidewalks.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation is involved with a pair of other planned projects – one of which will be under construction soon. MDOT will install a $2 million modified roundabout at Military Road and Highway 82 to improve traffic flow and reduce the potential for accidents. Its design will include a semi-circle on each side of the 82 overpass on Military.
MDOT could also partner with the city for conventional roundabouts on Main Street, the first of which would be at its intersection with Second Avenue.
In Lowndes County, supervisors have set aside $500,000 this year for rural road and bridge projects, dividing the funds evenly among the county’s five districts.
In 2017, Columbus completed the $3 million first phase of the Sen. Terry Brown Amphitheater on The Island. That phase, mostly funded by a Mississippi Legislature appropriation, included stage construction and installing lights and underground utilities.
Smith said the city is working to obtain funds for the estimated $1.5 million second phase, which will include installing restrooms, gates, concessions and seating. Once that is complete, the city plans to hire an outside agency to promote events there.
Additionally, the city used more than $600,000 in MDOT grant funds for separate projects downtown -- a 0.8-mile extension of the Riverwalk and improvements to Catfish Alley.
In Columbus, two programs underway aim to either build affordable housing or make existing housing safer.
Through the Mississippi Home Corporation’s Blight Elimination Program, the city has dedicated $225,000 to demolish 15 dilapidated homes in the city. From there, Smith said BH Developers will purchase the lots and build adequate, affordable housing.
The Federal Home Loan Bank is helping fund a city program to improve roofing, electrical, plumbing and heating/cooling at 17 other homes – the bank loaning $105,000 and the city paying $150,000 from its reserves.
Smith said work is complete at 10 of the homes, while projects at the remaining seven are already under contract.
County Extension office/rodeo arena
A new Lowndes County Extension Service/4-H office is open on Tom Rose Road. Sanders said it is part of a roughly $2.5 million project that will include a horse park/rodeo arena.
Site preparation is underway for the arena, as well as for an area the county has reserved for two greenhouses that will accommodate local master gardeners.
Lowndes County School District is well on its way to completing a $60 million investment in its school campuses – more than $48 million of which came from a voter-approved bond issue.
A new elementary school at Caledonia is complete, while a new high school at New Hope and a vocational technical center on Lehmberg Road in Columbus (still part of the county school district) are nearing completion.
Other public buildings
The upgraded Columbus City Hall reopened in 2017 after being closed for about a year for renovations. The face lift to the 113-year-old building on Main Street cost $1.9 million, the lion’s share of which the Mississippi Department of Archives and History provided.
Also last year, the city completed a $1.6 million Fire Station No. 4 facility on Airline Road – what Smith called a “bigger, better” version of the antiquated fire station on McCrary Road.
The county recently completed its new $1.6 million E-911 Center next to the courthouse, as well as new volunteer fire stations at New Hope, Caledonia and Artesia.
The Columbus Redevelopment Authority has entered an option agreement with an unidentified developer to possibly purchase the former Lee Middle School property on Military Road to convert into a residential, commercial or mixed-use development.
CRA purchased an option to sell the property from Columbus Municipal School District. The unnamed developer has until May to decide whether to purchase the 15-acre property or walk away.
The redevelopment authority also is acquiring lots in the Burns Bottom area near the soccer complex. Most of the 70 or so lots CRA is targeting are vacant or include inadequate housing. Once CRA requires all the desired lots, it will market the entire area for redevelopment.
WORDS BY ZACK PLAIR
PHOTOS BY DEANNA ROBINSON, LUISA PORTER AND COURTESY PHOTOS