Oxford officials prioritize capital needs, roads at top

Oxford StockBy Errol Castens

Daily Journal

OXFORD – The downtown parking garage could be on hold, displaced in Oxford’s list of needed capital improvements by new roads.

The Board of Aldermen met with Mayor Pat Patterson on Friday to discuss four needs – the parking garage, City Hall renovation, new roads and a new activity center.

In the end, they rated roads – most immediately an extension of West Oxford Loop from Anderson Road to Highway 314 (Old Sardis Road) at FNC Park – the highest priority, followed by a replacement for the 1970s-era activity center.

“I think I can give you a compelling argument for any of these,” Patterson said in asking aldermen to pick two of the four projects to push. “But we need to beat a path here and head that way.”

An expansion of the city-owned lot behind the Oxford-University Club has eased competition for long-term parking in downtown, with dozens of open spaces most weekdays.

“Until we are filling up parking on a consistent basis, (the parking garage) has moved down in urgency for me,” said Alderman Robyn Tannehill. “It’s inevitable, but it’s less urgent.”

“I know we’re going to need a parking garage, but when we’re looking at what’s going to serve most of the citizens of Oxford, that’s not a parking garage,” Alderman Janice Antonow added. “An activity center will serve citizens from 4 years old to 90 years old.”

Alderman Ulysses “Coach” Howell agreed.

“We’ve got kids needing something to do after school and in the summer, and that Activity Center dates back to when John Leslie was mayor,” he said.

Howell, the board’s longest-tenured member, was the only voice for an estimated $6 million renovation of City Hall.

“This building is probably going to be my priority,” he said. “Those steps have been cracked for 20 years. It’s terrible – you come to this beautiful Square, and City Hall is disgusting.”

Patterson pointed to a leaking roof, faulty HVAC, ADA noncompliance and cosmetic flaws, but added, “I won’t say we can’t limp along.”

City Engineer Bart Robinson highlighted a need for connector roads – and potential annexations.

“Every road we need is outside the city limits,” he said, noting that even most of the West Oxford Loop extension is in Lafayette County jurisdiction. “Oxford’s been developed compactly.”

Other roads that have been proposed include a loop extension from FNC Park to Highway 7 North and from Highway 6 to Old Taylor Road, along with new connecting roads between Old Taylor Road and South Lamar Boulevard.

Patterson proposed a 4-mill levy in the 2014-15 city budget specifically for roads, and Antonow urged moving quickly on bonding before rates rise significantly.

Alderman Jay Hughes echoed the urgency.

“Our roads are in dire need of some relief,” he said.

errol.castens@journalinc.com