Tonight, city staff and citizens of the “Fit City” will discuss large projects and minor tweaks needed for the 42-acre Swift-Cantrell Park, off Old Highway 41 near the corner of Jiles Road in Kennesaw.
In September 2004, voters approved issuing bonds to spend more than $9 million to buy the park property and pay for improvements, which also included the Smith-Gilbert Gardens off Pine Mountain Road. Those bonds still account for 1.5 mills on this year’s city property taxes.
Parks and Recreation Director Doug Taylor said a steering committee, city staff and elected officials held many public hearings before construction began to determine what features should be built at the site.
The master plan, finalized in 2006, included a list of projects totaling $30 million, which was too high of a cost, Taylor said. So, Phase I of development focused on items such as playground sets, a dog park, picnic pavilions, restroom buildings, a one-mile perimeter trail, a half-mile inner-loop path and open grass fields for passive recreation.
“It is one of the most popular parks in Cobb County,” Taylor said. “There is really nothing like it in the whole county.”
Phase II could include big-ticket items like ball fields, tennis courts, a gymnasium and aquatic center. But Taylor said the 2004 parks bond money has been spent, so new features would require the city to pursue more funding.
In the eight years Swift-Cantrell Park has been open, Taylor said, there have been changes in the Kennesaw community, and opinions might have changed about constructing buildings that would take a large footprint from the park.
“Is the master plan that we approved … is it still what the people want after the park has been open so many years?” Taylor asked.
That question is why Taylor said the city used consultants to poll users of the park, including nearly 1,500 emailed surveys and phone calls to 300 to 400 Kennesaw residents.
One main issue for responders of the survey was the crowded parking lots at Swift-Cantrell Park. Although Taylor said 160 spaces were recently added and visitors can use spaces at the Kennesaw Elementary School, which is adjacent to the eastside of the park.
A question at tonight’s meeting will be if more land should be paved for parking, with a warning that any new features would increase the need for more lots.
“For everything you build you have to have parking spaces,” Taylor said.
The master plan will continue to be amended, with a second public hearing this month. At the earliest, Taylor said the Kennesaw City Council could amend the changes in April.
After a list of questions, survey takers were also given a chance to leave comments, which Taylor said was a place often filled with complaints about the increase in smoking at the Swift-Cantrell Park.
“It has picked up for sure out there,” said Taylor, who has witnessed the haze in the “designated smoking area,” which is essentially the parking lot that leads to the trail and playground area.
Before a smoking ban would start, there would be public hearings on the tobacco ordinance and a vote by the City Council.
“It is definitely what I am advocating,” Taylor said. “We are a fit city. We support healthy living as an initiative of the city.”
In October of last year, pressure from an upcoming election and negative feedback from residents forced the City Council to back away from a proposed city-wide smoking ban that would have applied to both public and private property.
The proposed ordinance would have banned all forms of smoking, including e-cigarettes, from all city property, restaurants and bars and most places of businesses.
Dogs, runners, skaters share park
One physically active resident whose family uses the park on a weekly basis is Councilwoman Cris Eaton-Welsh.
Welsh said she became an avid runner in 2009 when she set a goal of running her first marathon before turning 40.
She reached the goal months in advance, and, at 44, Welsh continues to train around Swift-Cantrell Park, with large routes stretching from Kennesaw to neighboring cities such as Marietta and Acworth.
“You don’t have to be fast,” Welsh said about running marathons. And it takes support from other runners and the community to “cheer you up a hill.”
Welsh said the dog park at Swift-Cantrell Park needs “some sprucing up and some love. Other than that, I think the park is perfect the way it is.”
That sentiment is being echoed by residents who do not want additional costly attractions, but improvements to the traffic flow in and out of the park, Welsh said.
Out of all the improvements to the park, Welsh said the best update was the $1.8 million state-of-the-art skate park that opened at the end of November. The entire project was funded by 2011 SPLOST funds and private donations.
The 30,000 square feet of skatable space includes two bowls, where skaters can ride up and down steep inclines, practicing flips and air moves, and a plaza area complete with ledges and step rails for skaters to slide on.
Welsh said this past week, her husband, Steve, and 9-year-old daughter, Isabelle, were at the skate park, where her daughter is just now skilled enough to drop into the bowl on her board.
“Skateboarding really teaches independence,” Welsh said. “You are the only one who is responsible for your progress.”
If you go ...
- What: Public Input Meeting on Swift-Cantrell Park’s Master Plan
- Where: Ben Robertson Community Center, near the corner of Watts and Parks Drives
- When: Tonight at 6:30 p.m.