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Parks and Rec needed a Master Plan a long time ago (non-sports)

Milner Recreation Complex is still under construction. The project was initially slated to be done last August.

This editorial was submitted by city resident Brett Simmons. This is Simmons’ opinion and does not speak for the Warren County Sports Authority website. For full disclosure: Brett Simmons is the brother of WCSA editor-in-chief Jeffery Simmons.

McMinnville Parks and Recreation had 10 million reasons to have a master plan. Apparently, it needed 48,000 more.

As reported by the Southern Standard last week, the Parks and Recreation Department is working on a $48,000 grant that would help devise a “master plan” for the recreational department. This comes on the heels of the city moving forward with a $10 million renovation project (which could cost nearly $15 million due to interest) – one which has been delayed several times already.

While there is no reason to turn down money if you can get the funding, at some point, shouldn’t we ask ourselves how we had city leadership spend so much money on the newly named Milner Recreational Complex without somebody already having a plan of what Parks and Rec will do once it opens? More so, aren’t we paying several people to come up with these plans already?

We have a Parks and Recreation Director, a community planner and a recreational program coordinator already. Were they not prepared to come up with a plan for the new facilities we will have at some point in the future (maybe a strong assumption, considering the completion date of the new complex is still up in the air at this point)? If they aren’t, then exactly what kind of planning or vision was presented to the city before they voted to spend so much money on the new recreational center?

I am the owner of my own business. I feel confident if I went to a lender to borrow huge sums of money – millions – for a project, they would probably want to know my vision for what my business will be once I make my improvements. I doubt they’d want to hear that I’m going to spend all the money, then try to apply for more money for somebody to tell me what to do with my new business once it’s complete.

It really calls into question what the McMinnville Board and Alderman considered when approving such a hefty price tag back in 2018. Were those who voted in favor of it – former Mayor Ben Newman, current Mayor Ryle Chastain and current aldermen Rachel Kirby and Everett Brock – aware we would need an outside master plan for our Parks and Rec department officials to actually use the new things we were adding? Let’s hope they gave this project more thought than that – though considering how many issues the city has encountered during the renovation, it seems like there was plenty not known when the city decided to borrow $10 million.

And look, maybe it’s just the semantics of this all. The words “Master Plan” are eye opening coming from a Parks and Recreation department that hasn’t exactly had its hands full with projects in the past year. It’s not like they didn’t know what they were going to get from the new complex, nor have they had to coordinate events 24/7 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It took a community uproar – rallied together by an editorial by Jeff Chisam - just to get the city to overturn a Parks and Recreation decision and go forward with plans for soccer and basketball this fall/winter. From the outside looking in, it seems like our project decision makers spent a lot of time during this down time shutting down community programs or fighting about pickleball lines on tennis and basketball courts. In all that time, maybe they could’ve been coming up for a master plan of their own.

Here is some of what the website covering the Tennessee Department of Health Built Environment Grants – which the city is currently considering – says money can be used for:

“The projects are underway, and include playgrounds, walking tracks, outdoor fitness stations, greenways and trails, and other publicly-accessible spaces that promote physical activity and social interaction for communities.”

At the location of the Milner Recreation Complex, we already have walking tracks/trails that are lined with outdoor fitness stations. There is a playground adjacent to West Elementary that I’m sure plenty of kids use on the weekends and during the summer when families visit the area.

What happens when a Master Plan comes in and says what we really should have at the Parks and Recreation center are more classes for Jiu-Jitsu, CrossFit, yoga and dance? Is the city ready to undercut and/or compete with several local businesses while using the tax money from those businesses as funding?

Also, what happens if a Master Plan says the best way to utilize our space it to change our ball fields to a clover-leaf complex? Perhaps they would suggest what seemingly everybody in McMinnville wanted in the first place – an indoor pool.

Is the city prepared to spend more if an outside Master Plan says we need more stuff that we didn’t procure in a $10 million spending spree?

Here’s a consideration – get $48,000 and find a way to survey the current leadership at the Parks and Recreation department and the city and see if it suffices. Maybe that money would be better spent hiring a PR department that wouldn’t let the Parks and Rec department come out and say they need a master plan for operating a newly renovated $10 million complex.

Well, a renovated complex in theory. We’ll see when it finally gets done. That’s another proverbial $48,000 question.

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