Columbia County officials are talking big these days: Big plans for incorporating the county as one big city, big plans for a big civic arena, big plans for creating a new convention and visitors bureau.
Artist rendering shows the plans for development planned for Evans field on Ronald Reagan Drive.
But Monday, all the talk will be about a little chunk of land with big importance to the future of the community: The Doctors Hospital field.
Commissioners have set up a public forum for 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Government Center Auditorium in Evans, across Ronald Reagan Drive from the field. The county is buying the 17-acre site, intending to turn it into a central park for Evans.
The county unveiled a "preliminary conceptual plan" for the future park a month ago. To call it ambitious would be like calling the D-Day invasion a walk on the beach: the county's two-phase plan for the park would cost more than $4 million, on top of the roughly $4 million purchase price for the land.
That big price tag is actually good news, in a way: "The whole truth is, we don't have the money to do this right now," says County Commission Chairman Ron Cross. "It's just a beginning to talk about."
So, while we're just talking, let's look at that big plan. As conceived by J B and A Park Design Studio in Atlanta, it calls for cutting the wide-open field roughly in half, with a tree-lined lane marching diagonally down the middle. Trees and parking areas would encircle three grassed areas, including a "grand lawn" large enough to accommodate a soccer field. The plan also includes a small plaza with a pavilion, a fountain, biking and walking paths and restrooms.
Developer Don Lawrence loves it; the park would provide the view from the windows of luxury condominiums across North Belair Road in his planned Marshall Square development. "We are happy to hear the county is doing that," he told a reporter.
Not everyone is thrilled, however. A recent letter-writer to The News-Times summed it up perfectly: "The biggest asset that field has is wide, open space. We don't need trees down the middle, or sidewalks to divide it," writes Joe Fausnight, of Evans. "Please don't break up this open public space found nowhere else in the county."
Fausnight is right. Much of the value of the Doctors Hospital Field, which the hospital has generously opened to the public for years, is in its unstructured, open space that invites free, unfettered use. The more it's groomed, perfumed and manicured, the less it will fuel citizens' imaginations. Kite-flights of fancy will be reduced to Scheduled Play Time on Lawn 3, 10 a.m.-11 a.m. on alternate Thursdays.
ertainly, the site could use some improvements to make it more user-friendly. And while the idea of chopping up the big field into different-sized "lawns" seems almost sacrilegious, it's not a bad idea to make the property usable for different simultaneous events.
A minimalist approach to developing the park seems like the best one - and it would be far less expensive. That's a big idea all citizens could rally around.
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