During a Watkinsville City Council meeting last Thursday to discuss the playground portion of Extra Special People’s Miracle League, Mayor Bob Smith said he was baffled how a playground could cost $600,0000.

“How big a playground is this?” he asked.

The playground is expected to take up about 0.35 acres, according to ESP’s engineer.

The city has pledged $440,000 toward the estimated $600,0000 cost of equipment, installation and synthetic turf.

ESP, a nonprofit that provides resources and recreational programs to children and adults with disabilities, will pay for a turf baseball field, a concession stand, a retaining wall and other storm water infrastructure. 

The cost of all those amenities, including the playground, is estimated to be around $2.443 million, according to ESP. Of those upfront costs, the city of Watkinsville is responsible for $440,000. This earmark was voted on in 2019 before ESP decided not to pursue a splash pad.  

Once construction on the playground is complete, the city will take ownership of it and will need to budget annually for eventual replacement costs.

City Manager Sharyn Dickerson said the city will earmark about $43,000 annually toward the eventual replacement of playground equipment. She based that estimate on a 25-year lifespan of the equipment, a 10-year lifespan of the turf and an assumption that costs will increase about 2 percent each year.

Additionally, the city expects to see an increase of up to $900 in its insurance premium each year.

“This is the estimate provided by the city’s insurance provider if the city’s blanket insurance coverage were to increase by $600,000,” Dickerson wrote in an email to The Oconee Enterprise. “Since some of this cost is installation (about $95,000), the additional premium will likely be less.”

“This is a big-ticket item,” said Smith. “We have to be good stewards of the town’s money.”

Members of the Watkinsville City Council emphasized that this will be a mutually beneficial project that will be enjoyed by local families, regardless of whether they have a child with special needs.

A representative with ESP told the city council that the equipment is “surprisingly expensive” and that companies other than the one that ESP is considering doing business with would charge more.

Each piece of equipment will come with a warranty. In the case of vandalism, insurance would cover the repair or replacement of equipment.

Councilwoman Christine Tucker, who is heading up a committee on the restoration of Harris Shoals Park, said the future of the existing playground is yet to be decided. The newer equipment may be moved and the older, wooden structures may be repurposed.

“The field and playground are great for many other partners and organizations,” according to a document in which ESP answered citizen questions. “ESP would work with different groups for field use.”

The council-approved concept plan locates the Miracle League field directly behind ESP’s main building at 189 VFW Drive on property that they have leased from the VFW and city. ESP believes existing parking will be sufficient to handle those using the facilities.

An ADA-accessible pathway will connect the lower, main area of the park to the upper area. Park visitors will have access to a concession stand that will be operated by ESP participants.

The Watkinsville City Council plans to vote Sept. 16 on a long-term lease agreement and a construction lease agreement.

For more on this story, see the Sept. 10 edition of The Oconee Enterprise, on sale now at convenience stores and grocery stores and newspaper boxes throughout Oconee County. To subscribe, call (706) 769-5175 or visit the tab on our website. 

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