The Douglas County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday by consent agenda to demolish Mt. Carmel Park due to its state of disrepair and liability issues.
Mt. Carmel Park is located at 2400 Kent Dr. off Mount Vernon Road, down a narrow road that dead ends at the park gates. It is the only access to a number of houses that have since been built after the park opened.
During Monday’s work session, Parks and Recreation Director Gary Dukes told the commissioners that Mt. Carmel Park was in disrepair and six homeowners have to drive through the park to get to their homes, which poses a liability. He said the county’s risk and safety director, Matt LeVerne, had evaluated the park and recommended that it be demolished.
LaVerne said, “Mt. Carmel Park has served Douglas County for over 40 years and has been a true asset to the community. From little league baseball to football games, Mt. Carmel Park has accommodated Douglas County’s recreational needs for many years as the community has continued to grow.
“Unfortunately, as the park’s infrastructure, structures, electrical system and usage has deteriorated and declined, various safety issues beyond regular maintenance and repair have been identified,” he said. “The aging amenities, safety issues and increase in general liability were my primary variables in recommending the permanent closure of Mt. Carmel Park.”
Dukes said that Mt. Carmel Park was one of the county’s oldest parks.
He said that new Parks have been built to accommodate citizens in the area, Boundary Waters Park, and Lithia Springs Park.
“It has long been a problem park to maintain,” Dukes said. “We’ve been trying to figure out what to do to keep it open until we figure it out. It is so old, all of the buildings need to be rebuilt. The walls are deteriorating.
Why did the county allow the park to get in such disrepair?
Dukes explained, "With the athletic associations folding at Mt. Carmel along with the construction of the new parks in close proximity, it was understood families would be moving their children to one of the other new parks. Thus, there wasn’t the need to expend capital funds where there would be little if any participation."
Danny Dinning, parks superintendent, said he remembers playing Little League at Mt. Carmel Park in the mid-60s. He thinks this may have been the first —or at least one of the first — parks built in Douglas County and that it has to be at least 60 years old. Prior to building the parks we see today, team sports were played in fields behind the elementary schools, he said.
Dinning said one of the fields was named for Don Hayes, who was a coach and prominent in Mt. Carmel's athletic association. In the park's heyday, Mt. Carmel Park hosted many youth and adult tournaments. The park was expanded from a lone ball field after the county purchased additional property from Dr. C.B.F. "Doc" Young, who owned Young Refinery.
As for the park closing, Dinning said, "I can see where it's coming from. It's not safe and is hard to maintain. Back then, there were no houses back there. For the times, it was a great place to put a park and it was a great facility."
District 2 Commissioner Kelly Robinson asked Dukes at Monday's meeting his thoughts on what to do with the park’s 20 to 30 acres of land after the park is closed.
“What do we do with the assets?” asked Robinson. “Can it be repurposed?”
“Even if we demolish the park, the decision has to be made by the Board of Commissioners as to what to do with the land,” Dukes said. “Even if we made a passive park, there is still the problem of the roadway going through.”
“We would recommend the property be sold or used in some other way,” said Dukes. “If the BOC wishes to keep the property, I would recommend it be a passive park.”
Dukes said some items in the park are salvagable, such as by removing and reusing lights and poles from the football field.
District 1 Commissioner Henry Mitchell, who serves as the chairman of the county’s parks and recreation oversight committee, said it is first about safety. He said the next step would be for the committee to look at what is next.
Mitchell said, “Let’s clean it up and make it safe. Right now it is a liability. Down the road, a discussion will be had as to what to do with it after it happens.”
New fee structure at Boundary Waters
The BOC also gave authorization for the parks and recreation department to make adjustments to the fee structure for Boundary Waters Aquatic Center and rental charges for athletic fields and light charges.
The fee adjustment proposals were recommended to the BOC by the county’s parks and recreation oversight committee.
The proposed lighting fee for athletic fields were recommended to run $20 per hour, which is considered a break-even rate for the county.
Daily fees for adults who reside within Douglas County will increase from $3 to $5 effective July 1; out-of-county adults will see a rise from $4 daily to $6. Daily fees for children living in county will increase from $2 to $3, while out-of-county children will see the daily fee increase from $3 to $5.
The daily fee for seniors living in Douglas County will see no increase from the current $2, however out-of-county seniors will see an increase in the daily fee from $3 to $5.
According to Dukes, 80 percent of the participants using Boundary Waters are Douglas County residents, and all programs are made available to county residents first.
He said that the county has not raised any fees in the past 10 years and that daily passes at Boundary Waters Aquatic Center are on par or lower compared to Cherokee, Forsyth and Clayton Counties.
County to hire youth sports coordinator
The BOC also approved by consent agenda to authorize to approve a Youth Sports Coordinator position at $35,569.25 annually plus benefits.
Dukes said this position was proposed several years ago and is needed to provide oversight to the nine youth associations in the county.
“We don’t have anyone on staff that can oversee the associations,” he said, “and work with the volunteers to make sure the policies are being met.”
Douglas County has a detailed community sports manual that contains legal and organizational requirements for associations operating a recreational program within a county park.
“We have a great manual, but we need someone to make sure the manual is followed and also to help associations in any way we can,” said Dukes. “This position would be unique in mostly working nights and weekends where they have to be out in the parks all the time.”
Dukes said that the county has four of six baseball associations who are not compliant and have no board of directors.
He said the youth sports coordinator would be responsible for scheduling, lights and for financial oversight and monitoring day-to-day functions.
“This is an oversight position to make sure the sports rules are being followed,” Dukes said. “He or she will oversee the drafts and make sure everything is being done fairly.”
Mitchell said, “We have a manual the Board of Commissioners has approved, This will be a huge step in the right direction. This position is well-needed to enforce the policies we’ve already set.”