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LUMBERTON — Plans for a variety of improvements to Dr. Raymond B. Pennington Athletic Complex were approved Wednesday by City Council.

Council approved a new site plan for the complex, formerly known as Northeast Park, as part of the application process for a grant from the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. The plans include a splash pad, dog park, expanded playground, band shell/concert lawn, new soccer and softball fields, an 18-hole disc golf course, fitness stations, a skate park, facilities for court sports like tennis or basketball, and about 5 1/2 miles of walking trails.

The majority of the improvements would be located on land surrounding the existing park space that has been added to the park since its initial site plan was approved in 2005.

“It’s a great park site,” said Jeff Ashbaugh, a senior project manager with Alfred Benesch & Company, who presented the new site plan. “Y’all have done a great job of pulling together land, because you can do about whatever you want on this site, there’s plenty of room to spread out.”

The 2005 site plan is the most recent site plan, so new a new plan is required in order to be eligible for the grant. The specific ideas for the improvements were based on feedback received during public workshops, Ashbaugh said.

The plan has an approximate cost of $18,337,684, but the plan will be developed over eight phases. The PARTF grant will cover a portion of the costs for the first two phases, which include the addition of the splash pad, playground swings, dog park agility equipment, a 1/4-mile trail and two multi-sport/soccer fields.

“I’m happy to see that the park is going to progress and move forward with some additions,” Councilman John Carroll said. “I’ve had several folks in the community to reach out to me. I know we’ve done well drawing for the Little League baseball tournaments, and I think we could use that as a drawing card for softball.”

That opening phase of the project will cost an estimated $1,433,495. Of that, the city will allocate $10,000 to help the Friends of Recreation build a dog park. The Lumberton Visitors Bureau will contribute $500,000 for soccer fields and restrooms, and the PARTF grant provides $400,000. The city would provide the remaining balance of $533,495, according to City Manager Wayne Horne.

This is pending the approval of the PARTF grant.

There is no guarantee the grant will be approved because PARTF money has been cut back in recent years and it’s a very competitive grant process, Horne said. Council would have to accept the grant if it is approved, and at that point make plans for covering the rest of the cost.

A motion to approve the site plan, and an additional motion allowing city staff to submit the PARTF grant application, were both approved unanimously. But concerns were still raised by some Council members.

Councilmen John Cantey and Eric Chavis both asked what efforts were being made to improve the parks in other areas of the city, namely Luther Britt Park in West Lumberton.

“I understand how we need to expand the park, attract more business, attract more revenue,” Cantey said. “But as the one who’s been on Council the last 10, 12 years, I’m always going to say, sure, let’s do what we have to do for that park, but let’s also do what we have to do for our existing parks around the city. … I have a strong reservation about upgrading other parts of the city and not our part of the city.”

In other business, Council approved four projects regarding the city’s water and sewer.

One authorized the city to apply for a $2.7 million North Carolina Clean Water State Revolving Loan for the purpose of sewer rehabilitation on East Fifth Street and the rebuilding of the Outer Banks, Freeman and Ramada Inn lift stations. The project also includes the installation of a new generator at the wastewater treatment plant, which city Public Works Director Rob Armstrong said was the most costly part of the project.

For this project, the city targeted lift stations that were flooded and out of service after hurricanes Matthew and Florence, and ones that have a lot of flow on them, Armstrong said.

Of the city’s 49 lift stations, the three chosen for this project were the oldest and most in need of rehabilitation, Horne said.

The city will finance the project at about $200,000 per year over 20 years, Horne said. The city has taken about $900,000 off its water and sewer debt over the past two years, freeing up the city to take on additional debt for new projects.

Council also approved buying a replacement pump for the Harrill Road lift station, which Armstrong said is one of the largest and most critical in the system. A specific type of pump will need to be purchased from Xylem Water Solutions USA Inc. at a cost of $24,136.08, to be paid out of the water and sewer operations budget.

Obtaining a $450,000 state revolving loan to pay for the removal of sludge from the backwash lagoon and for repairs and modifications to the lagoon once it is emptied also was approved by Council, as was a filter media removal at the city’s water treatment plant at the cost of $33,250, which will be for using money from the city’s water and sewer capital improvement fund.

In other business, Council:

— Scheduled a public hearing for its May meeting regarding an annexation request by the Lumberton Housing Authority for property on Caton Road. A request to rezone the property so the LHA can build a housing complex on it was approved during a previous Council meeting.

— Asked city staff to investigate a petition for a contiguous annexation request from Barbara Lynn Cagle Benton for property on Arbor Lane.

— Approved a $277,000 loan from BB&T for the financing of vehicles, equipment and repairs and a $575,000 loan from First Bank for equipment, a boom truck and repairs.

— Approved the allocation of $350 in Community Revitalization Funds for Cruising Second Street; $750 for a luncheon for the Robeson County Teen Community Emergency Response Team; $1,400 for the Transit Center Youth Mentoring Program; $800 for the Robeson County Church & Community Center’s Randy Rust Memorial Golf Tournament; $600 for the Shriners’ Sudan Pirates fundraiser; and $700 for the Robeson County Arts Council.

— Appointed Carroll to represent City Council as a voting delegate at the North Carolina League of Municipalities’ CityVision conference, which is scheduled for later in April.

— Voted to install four-way stop signage at Walnut and 19th streets.

— Approved leasing property on Lowery Street to adjacent property owners for $1. The property was one of the city’s buyout properties as part of the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and is now a vacant lot. The motion also gave city staff authority to enter into similar leases for other similar properties because the situation is likely to repeat itself as the city becomes further removed from hurricanes Matthew and Florence.



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