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September 27, 2013

New Albany adds parks programs, looks long-term

Bud Flynn Center being refurbished, other projects to follow

NEW ALBANY — The New Albany Parks Department continues to add programing, as several fall events and classes were announced this week. From preschool activities to classes and gatherings for senior citizens, the department has boosted the number of programs it offers to the community each season this year.

“We’re listening to the community and they’re telling us a lot of the activities they want to do, and we’re incorporating those into our programming,” Parks Recreation Director Kathy Wilkerson said.

The city launched its own department this year after separating from the joint parks system with Floyd County. In August, Mayor Jeff Gahan hired Alicia Meredith as parks director. Her experience includes managing event operations for the University of Mississippi, and this week she began an inventory process that will gauge the condition of the city parks and suggest ways to improve those facilities.

One facility is already being upgraded, as work began on refurbishing the Bud Flynn Center off East Market Street about six weeks ago. New furniture, carpet and paint have been added to the building, and the first floor of the center will serve as the home to the department’s administrative offices. Those offices may eventually be moved to the new multiuse recreational facility off Silver Street once its completed, but Meredith said the revamped Bud Flynn Center will still be an asset to the community.

“Either way the building will be used by the parks department,” she said.

Though not ready to announce any specifics, Meredith said plans are being made to upgrade other parks facilities. The inventory list — which includes suggestions as simple as picking up sticks to larger projects such as resurfacing basketball courts — will help determine which parks are improved first.

“Eventually we’ll prioritize and make decisions on things that we can and can’t do, and things that are most important to the community,” Meredith said.

Though obviously recreational facilities, the Gahan administration has mainly touted the planned aquatic center, multiuse facility and upgrades to Binford Park as redevelopment projects. The city paid more for parks in 2013 than in recent years, and the department is expected to receive about $939,000 for operational expenses in 2014.

City Council President Pat McLaughlin expects that since a director has been hired, more capital projects will be announced and completed.

“I’m confident that we have excellent people in place with the parks board, and with the new director and of course [Wilkerson], who is such an asset to the community,” he said. “I’m optimistic that we’re really going to have some grand things.”

Gahan said Thursday that the parks board and staff are enthusiastic and community minded, and that he’s pleased with the results of the city department so far.

“The programming has expanded, and there’s a plan to take these activities further into the community,” Gahan said. “I think everybody will see more and more opportunity to participate in the parks.”

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