By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – When swimmers begin using Tupelo’s new aquatic center at Veterans Memorial Park in the fall, it will leave a void at another park across town.
While City Council members have toured the $12 million facility under construction in east Tupelo, residents living near Rob Leake City Park have met with Tupelo Parks and Recreation staff to discuss the next chapter for the neighborhood park with a long history.
Plumbing problems at the City Park swimming pool estimated to cost more than $1 million forced city leaders look for other alternatives for the future of swimming events in the community. So, with swimming no longer an activity at the park after October, Tupelo Public Works will soon begin demolition of the pool.
This month, the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board will view the proposed master plan for the Rob Leake Park, which will include replacing the soon-to-be-vacant swimming pool area with a splash pad similar to one at Veterans
Memorial Park and other options for the park’s future.
“We’re trying to keep the feel of a neighborhood park,” said Don Lewis, director of Tupelo Parks and Recreation.
Rob Leake Park’s history in the community includes providing home baseball fields for Tupelo High School a half-century ago, Rockwell Center there hosting many private events through the years and the playground area, used by area children and nearby Joyner Elementary School.
Residents of the Joyner Neighborhood Association discussed plans for the park during an association meeting last week, giving support to proposed ideas. After the advisory board reviews the plan, Lewis will bring it to Mayor Jason Shelton for review and then likely present it to the City Council.
The city’s five-year capital budget anticipated the splash pad but doesn’t mention other changes to City Park. Ideas discussed include extending the existing walking trail, constructing a new community center, and moving the playground.
“The park serves as an anchor to our neighborhood,” Leslie Mart told fellow members of the Joyner Neighborhood Association last week. “It’s critical to our home values.” Recent changes at the park have already led to distinguishing Tupelo from tennis communities in the state. With the purchase a few years ago of a removable dome for the park’s pool, it will be recycled to cover tennis courts at City Park.
Tupelo and an indoor facility in Tunica County will offer the only public indoor tennis facilities in the state.
Construction recently ended on adding six new tennis courts at the park, adding to the 10 existing courts and the training court.
Next weekend, a tennis tournament at the park and courts in New Albany will attract more than 400 participants.
As for the master plan for the park, which has no official cost estimate, Lewis said it remains preliminary until approved by the City Council.
“We’re just presenting ideas for council to decide if they want to pursue them,” he said.