By Jody Steinberg

“Life in the loop” describes a space that feels open and connected and brings visitors together, according to planning project manager Levonda Moody who recently shared this vision for Briarwood Park.

Brookhaven area residents came to discuss ideas for improving the Briarwood Recreation Center and Park, located on Briarwood Road in Brookhaven, with Moody and Martin Phillips, deputy director of Planning and Development for DeKalb Parks and Recreation.

Moody put a name to the vision shared by the handful of neighbors who pored over a dated master plan for the park at the June meeting. The plan was designed as part of a land swap between a developer and the county that gave the park a coveted street-front lot where residents have wanted to see a playground years ago.

With a lot of pointing and discussions, they reiterated their long-standing wish list for Briarwood:

• Nature trails;

• Playground and parking visible from Briarwood Road;

• A main park entrance from Briarwood Road;

• Connecting trails and walking paths across the park and into the neighborhoods;

• A gazebo area for picnics and reunions;

• Improvements to the pool, including a friendlier entrance, removing barbed wire from the fence, more seating and permanent shade structures; and

• A more inviting recreation center.

“The main priority is to attract people to this park,” said Russ Arnett, a long-term neighbor who has spent over a decade trying to see implementation of a master plan for the park that was approved by former CEO Vernon Jones but never funded.

Arnett and other Brookhaven residents recently appealed to DeKalb Commissioners Jeff Rader and Kathy Gannon to help. The commissioners earmarked $240,000 for improvements, generating a resurgence of local interest in Briarwood, which has been underused by the community because they say it is neither inviting nor open.

With no shade areas or seats, an awkward back entrance and barbed fencing, the pool has little to attract visitors. The playground, hidden from the street and the center, was closed for equipment hazards; the wooded areas are inaccessible and the building hasn’t been updated in decades.

A community workday in April and a visit by DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis in May brought seldom seen crowds to the center and kicked off a series of improvements.

Planning meeting attendees saw the first changes: the playground is open; bright new picnic tables with umbrellas, chaise lounges and floating lane dividers adorn the pool deck; and after months with no leadership, the Center has an experienced interim director, Catherine Hicks. Moody reported that gym and building improvements, including new air conditioning, electrical panel, windows and flood control measures will begin soon. Those projects will consume $142,000 of the special funding, leaving $98,300 for other enhancements. But that isn’t enough to pay for new plans and a playground, much less the rest of the wish list.

As DeKalb faces austere budget cuts, new funding prospects for parks is unlikely. Briarwood improvements will take time, require new architectural plans, but mostly, they will take money that doesn’t exist in any budget.

“We lack funding, pure and simple,” Moody said, encouraging residents to get creative and increase community involvement to make it happen. “More than anything we need solutions. Put your suggestions in the form of solutions, and tell your county commissioners to support Parks and Recreation.”