Meridian Star

March 29, 2013

County, city tackle recreation issues

By Terri Ferguson Smith /
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     A partnership between county and city officials will bring more recreational opportunities to youth in Meridian and Lauderdale County.

    Mayor Cheri Barry has talked about the projects, praising the relationship between the two entities to enhance recreation.

    Joe Norwood, District Four supervisor, has worked with Barry on the projects — including the possible construction of an indoor sports complex at Highland Park in Meridian.

    "This is the first phase of the Meridian Sportsplex. It is an indoor facility that will be able to house volleyball, indoor soccer, basketball and other uses for physical fitness," Norwood said.

    The 32,000 square foot facility will be constructed where the old basketball and tennis courts are now. Its plans call for a four-court gymnasium with bleachers at one end, an entrance with toilet rooms and a small administrative space.

    The Board of Supervisors is considering passing a bond issue that would include recreational expenses, Norwood said, but it will not cause an increase in taxes because the county has paid off some of its bonds and will save nearly $1 million in interest over the life of existing bonds by refinancing at a lower interest rate.

    Already in the works is  a splash pad that will be constructed near the carousel at Highland Park. A nine-hole disc golf course is already under construction around the creek, behind buildings and up the hill, he said.

The softball field near the Boys and Girls Club where girls 12 and under play softball has also been upgraded, Norwood said.

    "We have lights on the softball field and this is one of those agreements that we are working with the city. We are trying to revitalize Highland Park. It will never be what it was, but it can always be better," Norwood said. "The number of youth that will use this sports complex at Highland Park is more than all the recreational facilities of the city and county combined."

    Barry said this is just the beginning of several phases.

    "The opportunities for Meridian are endless," Barry said. "It's a plan to bring people back to Highland Park. Joe Norwood and I have been working on this for about two years. The city and county are working so closely together like they never have before."

    They will also restore lighting to the park, Norwood said.

    "We're going to light the park. We've had some issues there, people are afraid to go out to Highland Park. We've discovered that whenever you turn the lights on, usually the roaches always run," he said. "We're trying to reclaim our community. We're investing in some recreational needs that will serve the needs of the community."

    Joe McCraney, county administrator said the timing of the projects is better than when it was attempted a couple of years ago. McCraney said interest rates on bonds are down, some debts are paid off and construction costs are down.

    The county recently opened bids on a project in Josh Todd's District Three for dirt work on an eight-field complex that will serve the West Lauderdale Youth Association. The league held fundraisers for years before purchasing and paying off the land, which they then donated to the county.