‘Parks Czar’ Burnett Steps Down After 10 years

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

Stephen Burnett recently stepped down from nearly 10 years of service heading up the parks committee, first, for the Sewanee Civic Association and in its new incarnation as a committee overseen by the Sewanee Community Council. In jest, Burnett sometimes referred to himself as the “Parks Czar.” A better title might be Parks Sisyphus given some of the uphill struggles Burnett helped navigate. Burnett talked about the birth and evolution of the parks committee at the May 23 Sewanee Community Council meeting.

More than 10 years ago, then Provost John Swallow contacted Burnett and asked if the Sewanee Civic Association (SCA) could help with parks. The dog park was the current hot topic. But the SCA soon found itself confronted with an even more daunting challenge: renovating Elliott Park. “There was an old fort there with splinters and nails,” Burnett said, pointing out the dangers to children. “Elliott Park was an absolute mess. It was quite embarrassing. It was the centerpiece of the campus.” The SCA raised more than $65,000 to purchase play elements and the University contributed $125,000 for walkways, drainage and landscaping.

“The community got involved helping to spread the chips for the surface. It got off to a really good start with a ribbon cutting and music.”

Five years ago, the decision was made to transfer oversight for the parks committee from the SCA to the Sewanee Community Council. “We did it for a lot of reasons,” Burnett said. “Mostly oversight, but also for liability purposes and to have some funding back up.” The Parks Committee has jurisdiction over Elliott Park, the Phil White Dog Park, the Community Center Park, and the ballfields.

The Sewanee Ball Park has been the main focus. The committee addressed lighting, fencing, dugouts, and scoreboard needs. “The fields are in great shape now,” Burnett said. Youth baseball and soccer have thrived.

Charles Whitmer will step up to the plate as parks committee president. Board members include John Brewster, Sallie Green, Georgia Hewitt, Sarah Marhevsky and Brent Tate. Of the committee’s $8,000 budget, 75 percent goes to mowing, Burnett said. Looking to future expenses, he cited the triannual resurfacing of Elliott Park, cost $2,000, and the need for an additional playset. Burnett also stressed the still unmet need for a “handy restroom facility near Elliott Park.” Former Vice-Chancellor Reuben Brigety concurred. “It’s a matter of dignity,” Brigety had insisted.

Burnett would like the parks to have a “capital reserve” for “surprise expenses if we have a problem.” Burnett renumerated some of the “surprise expenses” the parks committee has fielded in recent years—burst pipes, huge water bills from faucets and toilets left running at the ballfields, and the dugouts flooding from runoff, a problem that has since been resolved.

“We have had problems,” acknowledged Burnett, no stranger to “surprises.” Burnett has been busy behind the scenes for 10 years making problems disappear.

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