A park and baseball field for special-needs children is one step closer to becoming a reality.
Last week, Johnston’s County Commissioners pledged $100,000 to the project. The money will come from the county’s open space fund, which developers pay into when they choose not to set aside open space in their subdivisions. Even with the pledge, the fund will still have about $1 million.
After receiving the pledge, Chris Key, chairman of the capital campaign for the Project to Build a Miracle, said he felt like he was floating.
“We’ve been working on the capital campaign for two years,” he said. “We had hoped to wrap it up by Dec. 31 of last year, and this really puts us where we needed to be.
“The end is in sight, and I believe that this year we’ll have the opportunity to build the park and the baseball field for these kids.”
As they do most months, commissioners met twice last Monday, once in the morning and again in the evening. Key and Monty McLamb, executive director of the Miracle League, asked commissioners for a donation during the morning meeting. Commissioners first asked for more time to consider the request and then approved the donation at their evening meeting.
The project will build a park and baseball field on Booker Dairy Road next to the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center. The baseball field will will have a rubber surface so that kids with wheelchairs and walkers can play.
The park will have regular play sets next to handicap-accessible play sets. Also, the park will have a wind-chime garden for the visually impaired and a pine thicket where autistic children can calm down if they feel overwhelmed while playing.
“The purpose of the park is not just to have special-needs kids play,” Key said. “It’s to have special-needs kids play with their best friends and siblings and, for just a moment in time, to feel like everybody else. They can swing beside their brother and sister, do all these things with the people they traditionally can’t.”
Key told commissioners the county has more than 4,000 special-needs children. “This continues making the tradition of Johnston County being a regional leader and innovator,” he said. “This is going to be a big feather in the cap of Johnston County.”
McLamb said the park will aid economic development because it will improve quality of life. Elsewhere in the Triangle, Cary has a Miracle League baseball field.
The fundraising campaign needed about $93,000 more by the end of January to apply for a $350,000 state grant. The Town of Smithfield, which will submit the grant application, has won the same grant three times before.
The project will cost $1 million. Other dollars will come from smaller grants, Johnston towns and private donations.
Assuming Smithfield wins the grant, construction will start in the spring and should finish in the summer, Key said.
Also last week, Jeff Carver, chairman of the County Commissioners, gave his State of the County address. He said the county had a good year in 2013 and was well positioned to continue along that path. He cited economic development, including the hiring of a full-time director and approving incentive grants for Novo Nordisk and Coca-Cola in Clayton.
Carver thanked his fellow board members for their support and spoke about the loss of former county commissioner Wade Stewart, who died last year.
He also recognized the county’s towns for their assistance in economic development. “We cannot promote the county alone and know that it takes all of us to make it work,” he said.
Carver also announced that the county now has 18 percent of general-fund spending in savings. By policy, the county is supposed to keep 15 percent in reserves; credit-rating agencies like to see healthy savings accounts. Reserves fell to 13 percent in 2011 because of the recession but climbed back to 16 percent in 2012.
County Manager Rick Hester said the higher reserves will save the county interest expense when it sells bonds for public school and community college buildings. Already, the county’s bonds are rated highly: Aa2 by Moody’s and AA+ by Standard & Poor’s.
Finally last week, commissioners heard an update from the county’s Teen Driving Safety Committee.
“When this program started in 2010, we were ranked number one in the state with fatalities,” said Kristin Power, a student leader in the program at West Johnston High School. By last year, the county had fallen to No. 4, tied with 15 other counties, she said.
The peer-led program focuses on five topics: speeding, seatbelt use, nighttime driving, distracted driving and drinking alcohol while driving. Power said when the latest statistics come out for this year, she expects Johnston County to be even lower in teen driving fatalities.