The Milton, Fla., Parks and Recreation Department keeps a five-year plan of projects the department would like to see started in that time frame. The department surveys each of the city’s parks to make lists of improvements that need to be done to keep up with the high standards the residents of Milton expect. Recently, Lucille Johnson Park received a makeover in terms of upgrades and improvements.
The department presents the five-year plan to the city council, which is in charge of approving it. The specific projects are then started as grants for the projects are received.
The city noticed the department had recently taken on larger projects like upgrading Carpenter’s Park and Russell Harber Landing. When the time came to choose the next big project, they wanted it to be a neighborhood park. City council members decided to give attention to Lucille Johnson Park.
Lucille Johnson Park stood out as in need of some significant upgrades. According to Jay Conrad, Milton’s interim public information officer, “To put it bluntly, the park was in really bad shape. The basketball courts were cracked due to tree roots growing up underneath them and the hoops were made of rusted metal that had been painted over. The playground equipment was sun bleached and heavily worn from use and the wood mulch was pretty much always damp and musty due to the humidity and regular rain.”
The old shade structure was rusted, and the picnic tables were somewhat rotted. In terms of lighting, the park really only had a couple of streetlamp style lights that were put up on telephone poles.
The department received a great deal of support from the community regarding the decision to focus last year on Lucille Johnson Park, particularly from nearby residents who frequent it.
“The upgrades have replaced everything,” Conrad described. “Both basketball courts have been replaced with fresh concrete slabs and modern hoops. The playground equipment has been replaced with newer, safer pieces and the wood mulch was changed out for ground rubber mulch. The restroom complex got a complete overhaul. The new shade structure is larger and allows more natural lighting to light up the picnic area. We also installed several large lights to keep the park usable after dark.”
In order to fund the project, the Milton Parks and Recreation Department received $100,000 from the Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program. An additional $50,000 was funded through the Local Option Sales Tax. The final $30,000 came from the city’s general revenue. The total price tag for Lucille Johnson Park was approximately $180,000.
After funding was received, the upgrades to the project were completed in two phases. The first phase addressed the existing restrooms and irrigation in the park. The youth basketball court was replaced, and the pavilion was upgraded. Sidewalks were added as well as some limited fencing around the park.
In Phase 2, the park’s lights, adult basketball court and playground equipment were replaced. Three new picnic areas were added. Sod was laid around the basketball courts, and the fencing around the park that was started in Phase 1 was also completed.
While the project was underway, the city ran into a few obstacles – many due to COVID-19. Since businesses had to operate at reduced capacity during the pandemic due to either limits in the supply chain or employee health issues, the city found it difficult to contract with companies that were able to do the work required for the upgrades and meet the necessary time frame. This meant it ended up having to modify the time frame for completion of the upgrades. While it was unable to complete the Lucille Johnson Park project as quickly as planned, it was able to still meet the deadline outlined in the grant from the Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program.
Response from the community regarding the updates has been exceedingly positive, with residents expressing their delight on the park department’s social media posts as well as at city council meetings. Park improvements do not always need to be grand changes to be significant, however. Small upgrades, changes and replacements or repairs can have just as great of an impact on the residents of the community who visit the park on a regular basis.