By C. Julia Nelson

cjnelson@reporternewspapers.net

Hammond Park amenities are in line for enhancements to meet a greater variety of recreational needs.

On March 31, the city of Sandy Springs issued an RFP (Request for Proposals) to secure a design consultant to create a master plan for Hammond Park inclusive of a new state-of-the-art gymnasium facility. Having allocated $100,000 to apply toward those services, Sandy Springs City Council is serious about creating a more user-friendly community asset at the 13-acre park.

Sandy Springs Councilwoman Ashley Jenkins is hoping to better meet community needs by improving the park, located at 705 Hammond Dr. Current participation in the city’s recreation programs is overstressing the existing 11,000 square foot facility, built in 1976 and more than 30 years of wear and tear are starting to take their toll.

“Ideally I’d like to see us tear down the existing facility and build a state-of-the-art on in its place,” Jenkins said. “We want to step it up a notch on our parks programs.”

Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos agrees that the potential of Hammond Park is yet to be seen.

“Hammond Park has a lot of potential to be more fully utilized,” she said. “The scope of what this facility could offer is huge.”

Some of the improvements Jenkins hopes to see include a multi-story facility, a climbing wall, additional gymnasium space, a stacked parking deck, updated restrooms, a workout facility and an aquatic natatorium.

“Several schools want to offer swimming but don’t have the facilities available,” she said. “If we had (a natatorium), we would probably service all the high schools in Sandy Springs.”

Current Hammond Park amenities include a multipurpose building with a gymnasium and game room, a soccer field, a playground, picnic pavilions, lighted tennis and basketball courts.

City Manager John McDonough said the ultimate goal is to create a facility that can accommodate future growth.

“The facility needs to be flexible enough to accommodate the changing needs of the community,” he said. “We’ll start with a blank slate; we’re very fortunate to have 13 acres in a prime location.”

McDonough said a cost estimate for Hammond Park improvements is premature at this time.

Consultants have 30 days to submit master plan proposals for the park. If all goes smoothly, McDonough said a consultant should be hired within the next 30 to 60 days and a master plan could be in place in late summer or early fall. An estimated time frame for engineering drawings is next spring with the possibility of construction to follow sometime in the summer of 2009.

The budget for the master plan will be incorporated into the city’s FY09 budget.

Community input

According to the RFP, the scope of the consultant’s work will include a review of the existing conditions and site amenities. Additionally, the firm will be charged with developing “an innovative, community-driven master plan utilizing the highest and best recreation planning principles.”

“Community outreach will be a big part of what the consultants are going to do so we know what the community wants to see there,” Jenkins said.

Mayor Galambos reiterated this point.

“Community engagement will be very important to this process,” she said. “The consultants must hold public hearings to get input.”

What Jenkins wants to know from the community up front is: what would be the best way to go about getting public input?

“We need all of the parents involved to give us their ideas and thoughts,” she said. “What do they want to see? How do they want to be polled? Web site? Public meetings? At what time? We want to hear their thoughts.”

Keeping up with demand

While council works toward a new master plan for Hammond Park, basic maintenance will be ongoing. Projects such as maintaining the lighting, HVAC, plumbing and alarm systems will be continued using general funds. Additionally, Ronnie Young, the newly hired director of Sandy Springs’ Parks and Recreation division said some shifting of programs would be put into place to keep up with current demands.

One of the biggest problems that will require extreme flexibility is the demand for youth gymnastics programming by Sandy Springs residents. It has required staff to schedule overlapping classes to accommodate all the registered kids.

“We don’t have enough space,” Jenkins said. “We need to rebuild to accommodate the demand from the Sandy Springs residents.”

About $75,000 has been allocated to create a full-scale gymnastics arena in the main gym area this summer, which should be fully functional by September. Gymnasts will soon have access to a full 45’ by 45’ spring floorboard, a rhythmic gymnastics area, two vaults with runways, uneven bars and parallel bars.

“We’re creating a center of excellence for gymnastics because it’s one of our largest programs that can readily produce twice the participants if not more,” Young said. “We hope to take care of the displaced programs at Sandy Springs United Methodist Church.”

Negotiations are underway with the church to relocate some of the basketball and volleyball programming to the Hitson Center, based on space limitations at Hammond Park. Tisa Moore, Sandy Springs media consultant, said the city would like to see programming start there in September.

“They’re a very promising partner,” she said. “We’re in talks with them but (no contract) has been signed.”

Even with the overcrowding challenge, Jenkins said the programming directors have been instrumental in keeping classes running smoothly.

“We’re very fortunate that we have people like Marina Davidovich and Deb Strycula working on the programs: it’s a huge asset to the city,” she said. “They bring innovation and out of the box thinking, which is exactly what we want to see.”

Citizens interested in sharing ideas about how to improve the park are asked to e-mail Councilwoman Jenkins at ashley.jenkins@sandysprings.org or call 404-520-0879.