By Josh Troy
Leaders listened to what children in Coahoma County had to say at a community voices meeting several months ago and are putting their words into action. Aurelia Jones-Taylor, executive director of Aaron E. Henry Community Health Center, oversees a steering committee organizing a complete renovation of Sasse Park voluntarily. Jones-Taylor reflected on the community voices meeting that inspired the renovation. “We asked them (children) what are different issues in the community that are affecting the quality of life?” she said.
Jones-Taylor said children talked about different mental health issues they were going through during and after the COVID pandemic. She also said having a nice park would benefit children dealing with those struggles. “It would be good for the community,” she said. “It would be good for health and wellness, and it would also be good for job creation. For tourists coming into the community, it would be something for them to do as well.”
Jones-Taylor said that after Sasse Park is renovated, it will have a skateboard park, an aquatic center with an indoor pool and meeting space, an outdoor fitness court, a new tennis and basketball court, an Amphitheater where anyone can do outdoor performances, green spaces for a garden, children’s play area and a walking trail. Jones-Taylor said Sasse Park is nine acres with a walking trail around the park. “We’re totally renovating the park, taking everything in it, out of it, and replacing it with entertainment areas and enjoyment,” she said. Jones-Taylor estimated the renovation would cost anywhere from $7 million to $10 million. However, she will better understand how much funding will be needed after talking with architects and engineers.
She spoke about some of the financial issues during the Clarksdale Board of Mayor and Commissioners meeting Monday afternoon. Jones-Taylor said costs for the fitness court should be around $160,000. She said the committee applied for a $30,000 National Fitness Campaign grant to help with the funding. The grant money will enable people to provide training to police, firefighters, and exercise coaches who have an interest in how to use the court. It is also for the launch of the National Fitness Campaign.
Jones-Taylor said the Aaron E. Henry Community Health Center provided $112,000 advancement of funds to pay for the fitness court. The City of Clarksdale and Coahoma County have each voted to reimburse Aaron E. Henry Community Health Center $50,000 to fund the fitness court. Jones-Taylor said the committee also applied for an $845,000 alternative project grant to fund the walking trail, basic infrastructure for lighting, prep work for park renovations, benches, and a number of other items. She said an application went to the Public Transit Commission for $150,000 to help install the parking lot.
An application was sent to the Federal Transit Administration for a Thriving Communities grant that would provide strategies and technical assistance to maintain the park. Jones-Taylor said an application went to the Walton Family Foundation for $60,000 that would go toward paying people for the planning process to build the aquatic center. Jones-Taylor said the committee applied for a $400,000 Skate Park Foundation grant that would go toward the skateboard park. She said the committee was asked to raise 30% of the $400,000. Jones-Taylor said State Rep. Orlando Paden and State Sen. Robert Jackson are also attempting to secure $300,000 in state funding to rebuild Sasse Park.
Jones-Taylor, Director of Tri-County Workforce Alliance Josephine Rhymes, and her children and stakeholders from the community are all on the project steering committee. “I think it’s very clear, Ms. Taylor, that we have been on a trajectory for some time in the city to do projects like this,” said Mayor Chuck Espy. Espy said Jones-Taylor is the right leader at the right time to make the renovations happen, and the city fully supports her. “Ms. Taylor, you have been a staple in this community for a very long time,” Espy said. “You are trusted, and you have been vetted.”
Ward 1 Commissioner Bo Plunk said he has been a fan of Jones-Taylor for several years. “Sometimes it’s got to be the right person leading the charge and, personally, I think you’re the right one right now to get it over that hump and get it where it needs to be,” said Plunk to Jones-Taylor. “It takes a certain type of person to get stuff done, and you’ve got it in you to get it done. I just want to thank you because I know the time and effort it takes to do this, besides all the other stuff you’ve got to do in this community. Thank you for what you do.”
Ward 2 Commissioner Ken Murphey agreed. “Thank you for everything you’re doing,” said Murphey to Jones-Taylor. “We’re moving forward, and we’ve got people in this community who are starting and stepping up saying, we’re going to do this thing. You’re, obviously, the right person there, and you come in here and tell us what you’ve done, and that’s great. “Ward 3 Commissioner Willie Turner also expressed gratitude.
“I’d just like to thank you for the effort and the time you have put into this project,” said Turner to Jones-Taylor. “I can remember Sasse growing up, and it was a beacon to the community. Thank you for all you do, and continue to build on your legacy.” Ward 4 Commissioner Ed Seals also said Jones-Taylor has made a strong impact citywide. “Ms. Taylor, we appreciate all that you do for this city and for the surrounding counties to make life better,” Seals said. “Now, this is another way we can improve the livelihood of the people in this area.”