While the school system remains a big draw, it is not the only reason that new residents come to the county. “Columbia County has a great quality of life,” says Strickland. “It’s a great place to live and raise a family.”
In November, voters approved a $65 million general obligation bond to fund quality of life and public safety improvements, and some of those projects are in varying stages of development.
For instance, the expansion of Patriots Park is in the design phase, and three new parks – The Plaza, Lakeside and Gateway – are in the design phase as well. Construction on the parks is expected to get underway in the first quarter of 2018.
“We have the same timeline for all of the new parks,” says Matt Schlachter, deputy county administrator. “We have a lot of land clearing to do at Patriots Park. It is the most involved.”
The Patriots Park expansion will include new fields, additional parking spaces, a new entrance off of William Few Parkway and an internal road that connects the areas of the park together.
“The main purpose of The Plaza project will be event parking,” says John Luton, the county Community and Leisure Services Division director. “When it is not being used for event parking, it will be used as open, passive recreation space. It will also include a covered pavilion for a farmers’ market.”
Near Lakeside High School, Lakeside Park will include more fields, tennis courts and walking trails. Although Gateway Park, which will be located across from the exhibition center, will not include a performance venue, it will be similar to Evans Towne Center Park in other respects.
“Gateway Park will integrate a water feature with a large playground area. It will also include walking tracks, picnic shelters and a dog park,” says Luton.
Phase I of the Euchee Creek Greenway, a series of off-street bikeways, walkways and trails, also is in the design phase. Funding for the design and construction of the first phase is part of the GO bond.
In addition, the county is opening the bid process to expand the parking lot at Savannah Rapids Pavilion. “We will widen and add a couple hundred parking spots to the lot on the left to better service the building there,” Luton says.
Two other parks in the Martinez and Riverwood areas also were part of the GO bond, and Luton says county commissioners are still trying to secure locations for them. He also says the county might incorporate temporary pickleball courts at Patriots Park in the spring.
In addition, Luton says, “We’re trying to improve our website from a customer usage standpoint to make it easier for people to use when they’re buying event tickets or signing up their children for youth sports.”
The city of Grovetown held a grand opening for its new dog park at Goodale Park in August. The park, which includes separate areas for large and small dogs, also includes covered seating areas, toys and water areas for dogs. Other improvements to Goodale Park include new parking facilities, a paved road that runs through the entire park and renovated restroom facilities. Next year, Waller says, the park will undergo further improvements such as additional playground equipment, a new splash pad, concession stand renovations and conversion of some of the property into multi-use fields.
In Harlem Sandy Run Creek Trail is in the process of being designed, and Cook says funding will become available in 2019. The trail, which will be just short of a mile, will connect the downtown area with neighborhoods along South Louisville Street. The city also plans to launch infrastructure improvements of $15 million to $20 million next year.
“Most of what we’re doing is in the planning stage,” says Cook. “There’s a lot of activity in Harlem, but it will be several years before people see anything.”
He also says that city officials hope to bring other amenities such as recreational facilities and a pharmacy to Harlem. “We need to increase the services in the community so our citizens don’t have to drive so far away,” he says.
The city celebrated the opening of one new amenity in May with a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Harlem branch of Columbia County Library. The $3.25 million, 13,000-square-foot library on North Louisville Street has a collection of 12,000 items including DVDs and audiobooks. The facility also has eight public computers, Wi-Fi and space on the second story for civic gatherings and meetings.
Plans also are underway to build a new library in Grovetown next to City Hall. “When it opens, we will move the Euchee Creek Library operations to the new Grovetown Library and expand the senior center operations,” says Luton.
Currently, the senior center shares a building with Columbia County Community Connections. One of the organizations likely will move into the Euchee Creek Library building, says Luton, and the other will expand its operations in the shared building.
“Our senior programming is really starting to grow,” Luton says. “We will be able to expand the number of seniors we can take over there.”