Commission members ready to take the field

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Newly sworn into office, members of a joint recreation commission wasted no time Monday getting down to business.

Six of the nine members were available to raise their right hands before Justice Court Judge Mary Lee Toles, making official an advisory role most had taken for the better part of a year.

&uot;This makes this group official,&uot; said Natchez Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith, who organized the meeting quickly after the school board appointed the last three members last Thursday.

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All but one of the members of the Natchez-Adams County Recreation Commission has been serving on an ad hoc committee to study the possibility of upgrading and building recreation facilities. The nine members have been appointed by the Natchez Board of Aldermen, Adams County Board of Supervisors and the Natchez-Adams School Board.

All three boards will share oversight and responsibility for any new facilities.

The other three members were out of town Monday.

Members of the commission are lucky to have some of their research out of the way, because they have to hit the ground running.

Already a month behind an original timetable, they are charged with presenting plans for a bond issue for recreation by early August to be placed on the Nov. 5 ballot.

&uot;You all know what you are faced with,&uot; Smith said. &uot;You know the timeline. Š We all realize the potential this has for quality of life for our community, for economic impact for our community, for solving problems and bringing back some things we once had.&uot;

First and foremost, Smith said, the commission will need to determine what money it needs for operation. The board of supervisors will have to be involved on that funding level. The biggest expense at the outset will be consulting, Smith said.

Meeting for almost an hour after they were sworn in, the commission members discussed some of their tasks and their timeline.

The board members have already seen proposals from several contractors and architects.

&uot;They’ve made their proposals; now they need to come up with how much it will cost,&uot; said commission member Jeannie Peabody.

For the past two years, city officials have discussed the possibility of using what’s called the &uot;bean field&uot; property next to Natchez High School as recreation land.

That land is owned by the National Park Service and leased to the city.

Recreation Commission member Joe Eidt III said he is concerned about how viable that property is for the long list of improvements needed in recreation.

Still, he didn’t want to count out using the land.

&uot;I don’t want to throw a wet blanket on what progress has been made with the bean field,&uot; he said.

Commission members agreed to look into other available land for recreation.

Setting the next meeting date at 4 p.m. Monday, commission members also said they would review the plans they have been talking about as an ad hoc committee so that they can determine the first recreation priorities.

Estimates for a major recreation improvement project &045; including ballfields, a pool and horse barns &045; have been put between $12 million and $15 million.

But with 60 percent of the voters needed to approve a bond issue referendum in November, the recreation commission might opt to set up a master plan in phases, Eidt said.

Commission members recognized that getting voters’ approval would be the &uot;first sale,&uot; Eidt said.

&uot;We’re going to have to go to every meeting, every church,&uot; Peabody said.

&uot;We’ve got to talk this up,&uot; Eidt said. &uot;We’ve got to convince folks to put the check by our name.&uot;