Thursday, September 26, 2019

Extra Special People Has Encountered Problems That Have Slowed Plans For Miracle League Field At Harris Shoals Park In Watkinsville

***Executive Director Told Garden Club***

Extra Special People has run into some obstacles that it must overcome as it sets in motion its plans to build a Miracle League Field at Harris Shoals Park in Watkinsville, Laura Whitaker, executive director of the organization, said earlier this month.

The project is going to require more money than originally anticipated, Whitaker told a gathering of the Watkinsville Garden Club meeting at Harris Shoals Park.

In addition, the Georgia Department of Transportation has said it will require a turn lane into the entrance to the park that ESP had planned to create for access to the Miracle League Field and other planned facilities.

Whitaker said investment in that turn lane would be a waste of resources as it would be torn up in the future when Experiment Station Road is widened to four lanes from U.S. 441 to Main Street in downtown Watkinsville.

At its Aug. 21 meeting, the Watkinsville City Council extended the ESP Letter of Intent for 90 days to November 6, 2019, so the city and the organization can work out the details of the partnership for operation of the Miracle League Field and related facilities.


In June, Watkinsville City Council received a plan from Extra Special People Inc. that would convert the existing baseball field in Harris Shoals Park to what is called a Miracle League Field.

Whitaker 9 5 2019

A Miracle League Field is a custom-designed, rubberized turf field that can be used by people in wheelchairs.

ESP, which serves children and young adults with developmental disabilities, is located at 189 VFW Drive. That site adjoins the park.

The proposal also calls for a 4,700-square-foot splash pad, a 2,000-square-foot dry deck fountain and lounge area, a 2,600-square-foot concessions and bathroom building, and a 1,050-square-foot recreational pavilion.

A new entrance to the park northwest of the existing entrance was included in the initial proposal, as were 85 parking spaces.

The proposal is only for use of about four acres of the park.

Whitaker On Goals

“We have this vision of providing this rubarized, turf field that will allow kids of all abilities, kids with mobility challenges, maybe that walk with a weighted gate, or have mobility challenges going up and down things, or may fall often, or need a soft padding when they do fall, or they try to slide, things like that,” Whitaker said.

“Out hope and goal is that it is going to be right here in this park,” Whitaker told the approximately 40 people in attendance at the Garden Club meeting on Sept. 5.

The baseball field will be open to the public as well, Whitaker said.

“Miracle League Fields are actually awesome for T-ball–for aging adults who want to play kickball or softball,” she said.

“What we want to do here in Watkinsville is build an innovative, fully universal designed park that every kid from the time that they are one until they never want to play on the playground anymore--and I still like to play on the playground--have the opportunity to interact with people with disabilities and continue to interact with people with disabilities,” Whitaker said.


“Timeline is a big question mark right now,” Whitaker said. “Funding is a big question mark right now.”

Total cost of the ESP proposal was set initially at $1.4 million.

“Is anyone aware of the construction world right now?” Whitaker said. “Construction prices are at an all time high. And now we have tariffs involved in that as well.

“So right now there is a big kind of question mark as to what we thought was going to cost $1.4 million is looking like it is going to cost a lot more than that.

“So there is a big question mark as to whether we’ve actually raised enough money to move forward,” Whitaker said. “That’s one of the things that is kind of a gray area at this point. But we’re really excited about it. We’re hoping to break ground in the next year.”

Whitaker told me after the presentation that ESP has raised $1.7 million, but she now thinks the total cost of the project could be $2 million, and she is raising money accordingly.

Separate Entrance

Whitaker said the present plan is for a separate entrance to the Miracle League Field, but the discussion slowed down when she heard back from the Georgia Department of Transportation regarding that plan.

Whitaker 9 5 2019

“We do have some GDOT challenges because this area is going to be changed in the next few years,” Whitaker said. “There is a requirement that we would have to make that would cost about $1 million and then they would rip it up in about three years.”

“So we’re working through some of those issues. But the goal and dream would be for us to have a separate entrance and a parking lot there,” Whitaker said, pointing across creek from the picnic pavilion where the group was meeting.

“Regardless, we will add more parking because we’ll have more people,” Whitaker said.

Whitaker told me after the presentation that GDOT is requiring a turn lane on Experiment Station Road for the proposed second entrance to the Park.

In the draft 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan for the region, right of way acquisition for the widening of Experiment Station Road from the U.S. 441 Bypass to Main Street is not to occur before 2036, though it could be moved forward.

Miracle League

Whitaker said 400 Miracle League Fields are in existence around the country, with the closest one in Conyers.

The first Miracle League Field was built in Conyers, and the Miracle League organization, a nonprofit, is based there.

ESP will be partnering with Miracle League for the development of the field at Harris Shoals Park, Whitaker said.

ESP also will reach an agreement with Watkinsville over operation of the facilities once they are built, according to Whitaker.

Operational costs “will probably be shared between the city and between ESP,” Whitaker said. “But we’ve built out a plan on how to maintain it in the future.”

Playground And Trails

Whitaker said the current plans are for ESP to do a renovation to the existing playground at Harris Shoals.

The walking trails and current center of the park are not “going to be touched,” she said.

“That’s where we’ll put the baseball field and the splash pad if we’re able to do that,” Whitaker said, again referring to the area across the creek from the picnic pavilion.

“This is a park that we love and are in regularly and consider it as just a part of us,” Whitaker said. “So we are very protective of that.

“Really, any time you are trying to provide the magic of ESP and build something, there’s going to be risks associated with it,” Whitaker said. “And we have to try to mitigate those risks as much as possible and also weigh them.”

“So we want to make a decision that is the best for this community, that is the best for kids that we serve, that’s the best for the patrons who are using this park every single day,” Whitaker said.


The Watkinsville Garden Club meeting began before Whitaker arrived, and I recorded some of that meeting.

The meeting also continued after Whitaker stopped speaking.

I stopped recording so I could speak with Whitaker after her comments to the Garden Club and did not record the remainder of the meeting.

The first video below begins with Whitaker’s introduction by Garden Club member Blake Giles and ends when Whitaker finished her comments.

The second video below is from the Aug. 23 meeting of the Harris Shoals Park Advisory Board Executive Committee held at City Hall in Watkinsville.

Marc Galvin, chair of the six-member Executive Committee, ran the meeting, which I attended.

City Administrator Sharyn Dickerson made a presentation at the beginning of the meeting. Mayor Dave Shearon also attended part of the meeting.

The Committee discussed the survey it conducted of users of the park and developed a strategy to guide its future work.

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