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Athletics facilities tops list of needs as Decatur discusses parks and recreation master plan

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Athletics facilities tops list of needs as Decatur discusses parks and recreation master plan

Carlos Perez (left), president of Perez Planning and Design, presented the draft parks and recreation master plan to the Decatur Planning Commission on Tuesday, Feb. 7, at Decatur City Hall. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

Decatur, GA — The Decatur city and planning commissions discussed the parks and recreation master plan during their meetings this week. The plan aims to create a long-range vision for the parks and recreation system in the city.

One thing residents clearly want: Better athletics facilities in the city.

The plan, known as Recreatur, outlines a variety of recommendations related to parks and recreation in the city of Decatur. The plan only looks at parks and facilities owned by the city and does not include property owned by City Schools of Decatur.

“Some of the opportunities associated with the goals were to see how this plan could help address some of the needs of the growing and diverse population the city has, but also look at ways the parks master plan can help with economic development, land acquisition criteria, greenspace conservation and overall enhancing the quality of life,” said Carlos Perez, president of Perez Planning and Design, the consultant drafting the plan.

The planning commission is expected to review the parks and recreation plan in March, and the city commission is anticipated to vote on the plan also in March.

Throughout the planning process, the consultants completed a needs assessment which showed that the high-priority facility needs in the city are paved and unpaved walking and hiking trails and natural areas, restrooms in parks, paved multipurpose trails, community parks, and neighborhood parks. 

They have also heard a lot about the need for athletic facilities. During the public engagement process, the consultants asked participants how they would spend $100 as it relates to parks and recreation. 

“What we heard was improving existing facilities was very important, followed by connecting the parks to each other through bikeways and trails, developing new facilities and acquiring parkland,” Perez said. “From a programmatic perspective, the order was increasing staff to improve maintenance to facilities and also adding additional youth and recreation programs, and then increasing the frequency of programs and extending hours to achieve that.”

The vision of the draft plan is to enhance lives across communities, and the mission is to provide quality experiences that promote healthy living and connections. 

The draft includes 10 values as well that were identified by city staff. They are – highest standards in the field, active living, inclusion, positive work culture, innovation, partnerships, quality service, accountability, stewardship, and accessibility. 

There are three guiding principles of equity, sustainability and connectivity to the plan and each has a series of policies, actions and steps. 

The first guiding principle is equity, which includes creating an equitable parks system

“That’s ensuring that all residents have equitable access to parks and facilities,” Perez said. “That includes a variety of things that includes Parkland neighborhood parks, natural areas, indoor facilities, and outdoor facilities.”

He added that the key going forward is partnering with different groups in the community. 

“We want to be collaborative, we want to be creative, and we also want to be aggressive in terms of park land and park facilities in the future to address the needs of residents moving forward,” Perez said. 

Another recommendation under this section is completing improvements and performing high-quality maintenance at all city parks. 

“That includes also ecological restoration throughout the park system…improving some of the invasive, exotic plant material that we see in some of the parks, developing a strategy to address those over time and looking at different ways to make the public feel more welcome in those parks,” Perez said. 

Some of the programs under equity include continuing to provide programs for all the needs and interests of the community, creating a process to evaluate programs to make sure they are fresh and up to date, and hiring diverse staff. 

The plan also looks at creating a sustainable parks system. 

“It’s looking at how do we maximize environmental sustainability within our parks, looking at tree canopy, water function, in our buildings – how can we make them more energy efficient, and how do we treat water within the parks,” Perez said. 

The plan includes a recommendation as well to reorganize Children and youth Services and the Active Living Division into the Decatur Parks and Recreation Department. The goal of the reorganization is to increase the efficiency and effectiveness in how the city delivers these services. 

“As we do that, there are also some positions that we’re proposing that the department consider and hire over the coming years to help increase that ability to provide high quality services,” Perez said. “That will include increasing the budget for the department.”

The third guiding principle involves building a connected greenspace system and making sure there are safe routes to all the city’s parks and schools. 

“The path plan, a really well done plan, connected a certain part of the community,” Perez said. “What we’re proposing is we expand that to expand that to make sure all parks, schools and trails are connected to create a complete system where residents can walk and bike to parks, schools, and trails throughout the city.”

Some of the priority capital projects in the draft plan are looking to add a neighborhood park in the south downtown area, creating a teen area at Ebster Park, creating a natural area at Montgomery Street Park, and creating a master plan to combine Oakhurst Park and the Sugar Creek area into one park.

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