Unity Park recommendations find support

August 19, 2014 10:43:47 AM

Carl Smith - [email protected]


A plan to renovate Unity Park into a more pedestrian-friendly green space found support from Oktibbeha County supervisors Monday, but the board stopped short of pledging financial support or in-kind services, instead opting to send the proposal back to committee for formal cost estimates. 


County employees will visit the site soon to determine if in-kind services -- labor and equipment, specifically -- can be utilized for demolition efforts that will increase seating space at the park and turn it a showcase location for public events in the future. 


The board took no action Monday beyond acknowledging an update from the Unity Park committee, a group of residents tasked with studying issues related to the park's functionality and scheduling a formal dedication ceremony. 


Unity 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. 


The displays, however, have remained covered from public view by tarps since the Oktibbeha County education building opened in 2011. The park was park of the roughly $2 million project that led to the building's construction. 


Unity Park committee members want to give the public space a major facelift before formally dedicating the park on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 19. The committee proposes demolishing large, brick planters that take up a majority of the park's potential seating space. 


Concreting and re-bricking efforts would follow in the new space that committee members say could hold up to 80 seats during public events, while the physical space near the plaques themselves would be turned into a stage. 


An exact cost for the renovations was not presented Monday, but it is believed new landscaping could cost about $2,000. Unity Park members could formally ask the board to allow county workers to help with demolition and construction, a move that would alleviate labor costs, in the future, while jail trustees and local civic groups could help with park upkeep. 


The group is expected to study the cost of re-purposing bricks obtained in the demolition process versus purchasing new bricks, along with labor and materials cost for the entire project. 


District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard, who has served as the liaison between the board and park committee, said at least one brick-laying company showed interest in donating in-kind services and materials for future renovations.  


Howard also previously hinted at corporate donations for the group's proposal to replace some of the existing plaques with ones more representative of local and state civil rights pioneers, including Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer and Douglas Conner. 


The committee also previously proposed erecting a new plaque to honor 1963's "Game of Change" basketball game between Mississippi State University and Loyola University of Chicago. 


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 memorials. 


Plaques are expected to be engraved with an image and inscribed with a quote for about $800. 


The Unity Park committee is expected to develop criteria for honoring locals with future plaques and a funding source that will cover associated costs. 


Supervisors created the committee after showing unwillingness to deal with peripheral political issues surrounding future inductees as leaders said they simply did not want to be responsible for picking or not picking residents. Also, board members repeatedly said they did not want the county to experience significant costs for opening the park or for future plaques.

Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch