City Manager Scott Miller rolled out an ambitious plan Thursday night during the City Council Agenda Work Session to turn the old McBrien School and the surrounding seven acres into what he called a “Town Center.”
Miller is asking the council to consider hiring a planner/architect to devise a master plan for transforming the dilapidated two-story building into a new home for the fire and police department and perhaps house the sign and animal control departments.
In addition, Miller is looking to build a covered pavilion under which a full-court basketball court would be constructed. The pavilion could also be transformed into a venue for concerts and possibly home to a farmers’ market.
“We need to bring people into this downtown area,” Miller told the council. “It’s a start.”
The proposal came on the heels of a special called meeting where the council was briefed on results of two community meetings where citizens provided input on what they would like to see in terms of recreational activities in the city. There was also online surveys asking for input from citizens. More than 200 people participated.
Michael Frixen, the Director of Planning for the Southeast Development District, is helping the city update its comprehensive recreation plan. The plan is needed to get a leg up on applying for state recreation grants.
Frixen explained that East Ridge residents love Camp Jordan, are concerned about safety in parks, want better restroom facilities and are leery of building recreational facilities in flood prone areas. They also believe that Pioneer Frontier playground is old and could lead to children getting hurt while playing there.
The survey respondents wanted to see more tennis courts, have a place for outdoor concerts, have access to basketball courts and outdoor rental equipment.
City officials are considering updating Pioneer Frontier and incorporating elements of the venerated playground that was built in the early 1990s by volunteers from the community. Frixen’s survey revealed that folks would like to incorporate a splash pad into the playground. He said a splash pad is much cheaper than a swimming pool and doesn’t require staffing and intensive maintenance.
Stump Martin, the city’s Director of Parks and Recreation, said the city is working with GameTime, a playground equipment company, to update Pioneer Frontier. Martin said GameTime’s Justin Killingsworth, a 1998 graduate of East Ridge High, is working on the design. He said Killingsworth was one of the volunteers who worked to build the original Pioneer Frontier.
Vice Mayor Larry Sewell said it’s high time the city did something with the old McBrien building. “We’ve been kicking this thing around for a long time,” he said.
Miller said if the fire and police departments were relocated to the McBrien site the city could sell the prime property on Ringgold Road that is now home to the Fire and Police Service Center to developers. Beside the money from the sale of the property, a retail store would generate local sales taxes and Border Region increment tax money. The additional revenue could go toward paying for the new “Town Center.”
Mayor Brent Lambert said there would obviously be a lot more discussion as the city considers this plan.
Miller then brought forward the prospect of enhancing Ringgold Road with streetscaping the 1.42 miles from Belvoir Avenue to South Seminole Drive. It would include sidewalks, greenspace, landscaping, ADA compliant ramps and “street furniture.”
He proposed financing the project with Border Region increment tax dollars. It could be completed by 2020.
“This is not going to be an inexpensive project,” Miller said. “I’m going out on a limb here but it could be in the $4 million to $5 million range.”
Councilman Jacky Cagle asked if the Border Region money would be enough to fund.
Miller explained that last year the city received $1.2 million in Border Region money. This year he anticipates that increasing by five to seven percent. In the long run, he said, the city is looking at between $16 million and $18 million bond capacity.
Miller said both of these proposals would be on the agenda for the August 10 council meeting to consider moving forward.