The first construction on the planned 150-acre Blanchard Woods Park gets underway during the next two weeks.
Columbia County construction and maintenance crews will reroute Willie Daniels Drive to better align future traffic with the park property.
"We'll do away with Willie Daniels, and the new road will grant access to the park and connect with the driveways of homeowners near the park," the county's Community and Leisure Services Director Barry Smith said.
Next, water and sewer utilities will added to the property, he said.
In January of 2003, Columbia County purchased 150 acres, mostly from the Blanchard family, off Blanchard Road to build the park.
The county spent $1,633,940 of 1-cent sales tax money and state greenspace funds to purchase the land that will reportedly contain eight to 10 soccer fields, a 12-court tennis complex, cross-county walking trails, a 30-acre greenspace area, a skateboard park and a water spray park, Smith said.
In addition to the purchase of the property, $1 million from the current 1-cent sales tax fund will be used to cover road and utility work and consultant fees for a park master plan.
Smith is asking for even more funding to complete the park.
"I requested $3.8 million in the next (1-cent sales tax) referendum," he said. "The preliminary costs estimates were $4.2 million, but with landscape enhancements it could be pushed up to $4.5 million. We'll include this in the bond referendum, so we can complete the park as soon as we can."
Voter will decide July 20 whether to extend the county's 1-cent sales tax collections for another five years.
Executives with Johnson Laschover and Associates, a consulting firm hired by the county to create the Blanchard Woods master plan, will conduct a series of town meetings in June and July to get public input on the park, Smith said.
"After that, we'll complete the master plan by the fall," he said. "We'll probably put out the construction bid in early 2005. We're hoping that the park will be open in the spring or fall of 2006."
Once open, the park will go along way toward meeting the increasing demand of parents wanting more soccer fields for their children, Smith said.
"(The Recreation Department master plan) calls for 15 more soccer fields to accommodate the demand," he said. "This will be eight to 10, and we'll still be in a bit of a deficit."
The soccer fields will be built on different levels to create mini-soccer complexes with four or two fields per level. Each level will come with its own parking and be separated by a tree line.
"I specifically asked to save as many trees as possible to maintain the aesthetics of the park," Smith said.
After completion, the onus of recreation department-sponsored soccer matches will be played at Blanchard Woods. Patriots Park, where most of the county's soccer action currently takes place, will primarily host softball and baseball action.
Current designs for Blanchard Woods also include an area for festivals and outdoor concerts.
Smith said, "This park is going to be a premier park in the county and done very nice."
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