Fort Mill Times

Fort Mill needs a park soon. See who got picked to design it, and when it will open.

Fort Mill Town Council approved a planning, design and engineering proposal Monday night for the new fields planned at Waterside at the Catawba.
Fort Mill Town Council approved a planning, design and engineering proposal Monday night for the new fields planned at Waterside at the Catawba. Fort Mill Times file photo

Fort Mill’s newest park won’t go out for construction bids for another nine months, but the town is on its way figuring out exactly what those bids will include.

Fort Mill Town Council approved a planning, design and engineering proposal Monday night for the new fields planned at Waterside at the Catawba. ESP Associates put in the lowest of three bids, at $143,200. The firm already is working within the largely residential subdivision, so town Parks and Recreation Director Brown Simpson expects a smooth transition.

“They’ve been on site, so it’s a plus to have them come on board,” he said.

Late last month, the firm submitted its proposal for site work on the park. It was based on a sketch plan for the 25-acre property from the town. The firm will come up with two possible layouts.

The proposal mentions four baseball or softball fields, two with 275-foot fences and two at 225 feet. Another option is one of the larger fields and three of the smaller. An inclusive playground, one or two restrooms, parking, pedestrian paths and picnic areas also are options.

An ‘inclusive playground’

Simpson said residents will see similarities with the new park and the relatively new Dobys Bridge Park, which also has ballfields and restrooms.

“Some of it,” he said, “but I think what we want to do is put some more picnic shelters out there, and we want to have a full walking trail. And of course our inclusive playground will be there.”

A little more than a year ago, dozens of families packed into a council meeting asking for a park where all children could play. Park features like multiple handicap-accessible swings, a smooth rubber surface, fenced-in areas, wide walkways and play features without a step to get to them makes play more accessible for children with a variety of physical or developmental challenges, the parents explained.

The town committed that night to seeing what it could do, either in renovating an existing park, or building a new one. The town later agreed to incorporate those features into the new park at Waterside.

Which brings Councilwoman Lisa McCarley to an issue she’d like to see council take up with the new park.

“I would like for us to go ahead and start looking at a name for the park,” she said.

It won’t be named after the road where its main entrance is, as is the case with Calhoun Street, Doby Bridge, Harris Street and Steele Street parks, along with the Banks Street Gym housing the parks and recreation department. The Waterside site will have its entrance off Banks Road, almost two miles south of the Banks Street Gym which could create confusion.

Other town parks — Veterans and Walter Elisha parks, and the soon to be acquired Anne Springs Close Greenways Recreation Complex — have names that aren’t based on roads. Confederate Park is close to one end of Confederate Street, but gets its name from the monuments there.

The Waterside property came to the town through a 2013 development agreement for the 1,300-home subdivision. The 470-acre Waterside development is between Whites Road and the Catawba River. Builders anticipated an eight-year project before all the homes were complete.

At one point, town leaders faced the possibility of needing field and gym space at the Waterside site, with the looming loss of the recreation complex when a town lease on that site expires in 2020. Then, on Halloween, the town and Greenway announced a mega deal involving the Fort Mill School District and Upper Palmetto YMCA.

The town will keep and expand the gym at the complex, with the school district expanding the pool facility using money approved in a 2015 bond referendum for an aquatics center. The YMCA will operate the gym for the town. Greenway parent company Leroy Springs & Co., which donated those properties, will keep and likely redevelop remaining land there, including where the baseball and softball fields are now.

That arrangement allows the town to focus on an improved gym and renovated tennis courts at the complex, and field space at Waterside.

“This is a park where we’re developing replacement ballfields,” said Mayor Guynn Savage.

The new park will be in the Banks Road and Sparkling Brook Parkway area, its entrance near the existing Northern Tools site.

While the complex announcement was welcome news to parks and recreation staff, losing the complex fields still leaves a tight time line for getting the new ones in place at Waterside. Simpson said he expects to have final plans ready for construction bids in nine months and believes the town will cut a ribbon at the new site before losing the complex fields.

Supported by money from a development impact fee passed by the town in 2015, the parks and recreation department has been growing steadily. The town recently took ownership of downtown’s Elisha Park, where coming improvements could include new swings, lighting, restrooms and an amphitheater. Complex upgrades include the expanded gym, parking and tennis court upfits.

Savage said the recreation work is a major piece of the growth puzzle, and one town leaders are working hard to solve. Something she would like to see more residents recognize amid ongoing challenges.

“We tend to look at the challenges before us rather than the effort put in,” Savage said.