By Gerhard Schneibel
gerhard@reporternewspapers.net

Hammond Park could become to Sandy Springs what Piedmont Park is to Atlanta, urban planners said during two Sept. 15 community input meetings about plans to redevelop the park.

The city has contracted San Francisco-based EDAW to create a master plan, which is expected to be complete in mid-February. James Sipes, an Atlanta-based senior associate with the company, said the park will provide a centerpiece for the look and feel of the city.

“Every city has a park that really serves as its image,” he said. “It’s what you put on the postcards.”

The city began conducting a survey on its Web site Sept. 2 to gather citizen comments as it prepares to restore the 13-acre park and its 11,000-square-foot facilities, which were built in 1976 and have fallen into disrepair.

The park’s terrain drops 60 feet in elevation, and many of its slopes have eroded because they aren’t covered in vegetation. The surfaces of its two parking lots, which combined can hold 127 cars, are cracked, as are many of its paved paths. The western part of the park is covered in a mixture of older trees, and the eastern part is covered in a younger pine forest.

EDAW landscape architect Micah Lipscomb said the trees in the western part of the park “provide great canopy” and are “kind of a landmark in Sandy Springs.”

“I think any plan I see will preserve those trees. They’re a great asset to the community. But it will limit the amount of the park that can be developed,” he said. “Certainly when new amenities are added, we’re going to need a lot of parking.”

The park also has some trails in the woods.

Over the years items such as retaining walls and buildings have been added to the park using a “mismatch of materials,” Lipscomb said. “Any improvements we do will use a consistent pallet of materials.”

While the park doesn’t meet the city’s “functional, aesthetic and, in some cases, safety” needs, he said, the process of creating a master plan is an opportunity for city residents to “dream big.”

Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods Dist. 4 Director Tochie Blad said she wants to see “reciprocal parking,” such as underground or stacked lots, to maximize the use of the 13 acres.

“My vision of a park is greenery, walking paths … attractive,” she said.

Dist. 4 Councilwoman Ashley Jenkins suggested putting the parking underneath the existing soccer field.

Linda Bain, the executive director of the Sandy Springs Conservancy, suggested a building with a green roof or a cistern to hold rainwater for irrigation.

“This is an urban park. It’s in the middle of a highly developed urban area, so I like the university model, where they build up,” she said. “I just can’t see this valuable real estate being used for surface parking.”

Jenkins said the city hopes to raise private donations to cover half the cost of the park restoration. “It won’t be fully city-funded,” she said of the project.

An aquatic facility with a lap pool where school swim teams could practice and a wading pool for young children and people with disabilities is likely, she said.

Hammond Park has long been a place for basketball players from Sandy Springs and beyond. The indoor basketball court was recently converted into a permanent gymnastics gym, which put an end to the open basketball sessions that were held there each Saturday. The sessions drew as many as 100 people, said Adamo (his full legal name), who has played at the park for years.

“We’re really missing that,” he said. “I’d like to see the (outdoor) basketball courts stay and be maintained. Those, to me, should be one of the easiest things to maintain.”

Weather permitting, basketball players like to play outside, but Adamo said he has had to change the net himself several times and tightens the backboard with a screwdriver each time before he plays.

“The court is in horrible condition,” he said, adding that there are no drinking fountains by the courts and the lighting is faulty.

The older men who play at the court try to do basic maintenance and upkeep for their younger counterparts. They also try to keep them from cursing and acting out when children are nearby, Adamo said.

“It’s not an inner-city pickup court, but sometimes it becomes that to a degree,” he said.

Sipes said 13 acres is the typical size of a small neighborhood park, but he said Hammond Park “functions more like a major regional park” because of its central location.

“If (the city) didn’t have this park now, you couldn’t afford it now,” he said. “Where it’s located, it really does serve as an introduction to Sandy Springs.”