August 13, 2014 10:36:48 AM
Oktibbeha County supervisors are expected to mull in-kind renovation requests, including the possibility of supplying labor, next week for a Unity Park facelift that could lead to the under-utilized public space's opening next year.
A committee of county residents is expected to present the requests at the board's 5:30 p.m. Monday meeting as renovation plans must soon be finalized if Unity Park is to open on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 19. Weather and other unforeseen issues could complicate improvements like concrete pouring.
Similar requests could come before Starkville aldermen after the county handles the issue.
In April, committee members unveiled plans to update the park with a refocused vision on local civil rights leaders and a redesigned public space that can serve as a community gathering place in the future.
The park, located between Mugshots and the Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Department, contains seven plaques honoring national figures who championed race relations and educational efforts in the last century. Five of those plaques are already engraved with pioneers' likenesses. However, Unity Park's displays have remained covered from public view by tarps since the Oktibbeha County education building opened in 2011.
Unity Park was part of the about-$2 million project that led to the building's construction.
To further honor state and local civil and human rights advocates, the committee proposes replacing existing plaques with ones recognizing Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer and Douglas Conner. A new plaque honoring 1963's Game of Change between Mississippi State University and Loyola University.
A timeline of events erected at the park will be re-evaluated, and additional dates could be added, the committee proposes.
As for physical changes, the proposal aims to knock down large brick planters that take up a majority of the park's usable space. Since the group suggested Unity Park become a space for local events and celebrations, additional benches could be added to the re-landscaped park to increase seating and improve the space's conduciveness for special events.
Supervisors could approve in-kind services in the future that would relieve most of the work and expenses with renovations, but the board previously shied away from committing itself financially to installing new plaques.
In April, William "Brother" Rogers, a Stennis Center for Public Service Leadership member who also serves on the Unity Park committee, said private donations are expected to cover the "Game of Change" and Conner.
Each plaque costs an estimated $800.
Once renovations are completed and new plaques are installed, the park committee is expected to schedule a formal dedication ceremony.
New inductions into the park could follow annually, as the committee is expected to develop criteria for honoring locals' contributions for civil and human rights. Additionally, the education building's brick wall that faces the park could become the canvas for a mural tying into the park's theme.
The Unity Park group met Monday at the courthouse to update District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard on its proposal, but the group disbanded early as Howard was unavailable.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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