Construction on a planned community park and recreation center on the Barrow County School System’s Center for Innovative Teaching (CFIT) property in Winder is still slated to begin sometime in 2023 with a combination of public and private funding through an effort being spearheaded by the Barrow Community Foundation.

First Community Development of Atlanta has completed a feasibility analysis for the project on the CFIT campus (the old Russell Middle School property) between West Candler Street and West Midland Avenue and plans to present its findings to the community foundation’s board of directors later this month, Lynn Stevens, the foundation’s executive director and a Barrow County Board of Education member, said Monday, June 14.

The project, currently projected for a five-year buildout, is proposed to feature several elements — including a community “destination” playground that would have educational elements incorporated into its design and be inclusive for children of all ages and those with disabilities; a water play area; walking path; basketball/volleyball courts; outdoor reading spaces; outdoor amphitheater; sculpture and art garden; dog park; picnic pavilions; historical-information signs and a building that would include art showcases and conference space.

“It’s an ambitious project, but one that’s really needed in this area,” Stevens said. “It just touches so many aspects of the community and checks off so many boxes.”

The school board and foundation agreed in 2019 on a memorandum of understanding and partnered with nonprofit ArtsNOW to begin formal planning for the campus project, with the goal of raising $13.5 million over a three-year period. First Community Development was retained to assist with crafting a strategic plan and, after a pause last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, finalized the master plan in January.

First Community Development then spent the last three months conducting “confidential” interviews with 45 corporate, government and community leaders as part of its feasibility analysis, according to a news release from the company.

Steve Dorough with First Community Development said the analysis focuses on five areas of interest within the community:

•awareness among local leaders regarding the project.

•community opinion regarding the campus development strategy.

•funding potential for a community-wide initiative.

•positive and negative factors that would impact the project.

•recommendations regarding a feasible campaign goal, project timing and potential leadership.

Stevens said once the findings are presented, the foundation will start the process of determining which parts of the campus will be built first, adding that much of that will be determined by which elements have the most public support. She said local fundraising continues for the project and that she expects the foundation will explore grant opportunities as well, with an actual goal of raising closer to $17 million to help fund long-term maintenance.

“The response so far from the community has been very positive, simply because it’s much-needed,” Stevens said. “If you look at the needs of the county, we don’t have a lot of places where people can feel comfortable just going on walks and taking their families. We want this to be a place for everybody to come and benefit from. What we’re wanting to do is create a sense of community with this.”

More information on the project can be found at barrowcommunityfoundation.org/cfit.

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