By Meredith Pruden
The city’s purchase of nearly one dozen parks from Fulton County was finalized in late 2006 ushering in yet another turning point for Sandy Springs. But, where does the city administration go from here?
“That’s not just the $64,000 question, it’s the $64 million question,” said the recently hired Recreation and Parks Director Brad Chambers. “Part of my job for the next three or four months is to find out.”
After more than one year developing city infrastructure including Public Works and Emergency Services departments, the Sandy Springs’ government is ready to turn its collective sights to what Chambers described as the “wants versus the needs” of the community. City parks and recreation fall under this broad scope.
Initially, Chambers said it is necessary to take inventory of each park to discern condition and potential capital improvement projects. But the department also is on a tight deadline to submit for approval its five-year capital improvement budget in conjunction with the Sandy Springs Master Plan. If approved, both documents eventually will become part of the city’s Comprehensive Plan slated for completion by year-end.
“The next two or three months are going to set the stage for the next two or three years,” Chambers said.
A city consultant and Chambers are working together on design and acreage standards to decide what the city needs regarding park space.
“Pick a category and we’re deficient in it: trails, green space, ball fields, parks of any kind, size or function – we’re deficient in it, which makes it easy because you don’t have to pick what area you’re hurting in,” Chambers said. “The challenge is prioritizing all of those areas.”
There are suggested national standards, which have been set in place by the National Recreation and Park Association but not all are viable for Sandy Springs.
“We can say until we’re blue in the face that we should have 14 softball fields in Sandy Springs, but it’s not going to happen because we don’t have the land here to build,” Chambers said. “To put those in the plan knowing it will never happen doesn’t make much sense, so we’re trying to focus on what can happen.”
What can happen are trails, greenways, connectors and at least one riverfront area, according to Chambers.
“What can we do to improve the quality of life?” Chambers asked. “That’s part of what I’m doing in conjunction with the Master Plan – giving the city a prioritized needs list of the areas that need to be improved and the facilities that need to be built. Then the mayor and the city council say how much we can do each year.”
One of the projects Chambers said he is most excited about is the potential Bull Sluice river park, which would be located near the dam in what is commonly known as The Great Park at Morgan Falls.
“It makes a lot of sense to develop a river park that will be a city focal point,” Chambers said. “The only other parks we have along the river are the national recreation areas that by definition can’t be developed.”
Each city has different parks and recreation needs, according to Chambers, but there is not much career wise he hasn’t seen since graduating from the University of Tennessee with a degree in recreation administration.
Before arriving in Sandy Springs, Chambers led the parks department in Grandview, MO, a city of 26,000 outside of Kansas City, where the quantity of parks surpassed that of Sandy Springs. He also started the parks department in Cookeville, TN.
“Generally speaking a fire department is a fire department and a police department is a police department,” Chambers said. “They’re going to have the same kinds of vehicles and facilities, but recreation and parks departments are as different as night and day from place to place.”
“I’ve gotten to work in a lot of different cities with different facilities and I can bring that experience here,” he said. “You probably can’t throw too many things at me that I haven’t seen or experienced.”