Loretto leverages grant money to build big projects
By KATE COIL
TML Communications Specialist
Leveraging grant funds and local know-how, the city of Loretto is showing that smaller municipalities don’t need to shy away from big dreams.
In less than a decade, the city has utilized more than $3.46 million in grant money to finance $5.37 million worth of projects improving recreation, accessibility, and infrastructure. As he reflects on his nearly eight-year tenure, outgoing Mayor Jesse Turner said he was once told the city wouldn’t be able to accomplish as much as larger communities.
“For a small town, we have done a whole lot,” Turner said. “We know what our place is. We aren’t out there looking for all the big fish. We don’t want to change who we are. The purpose of the city government is to provide the best services possible, and that’s what we’ve tried to do. Loretto has always done a good job of that.”
One project that has received an outpouring of positive feedback during Turner’s term is the community was the opening of a new municipal pool at the Loretto City Burke Park, often known as either Burke Park or City Park. The city originally had a pool built in the late 1960s, but the facility was shut down in the 2010s after it became unsafe. After two or three years without a pool, Turner said opening a new pool facility was a major desire for local residents.
The city was initially awarded a $250,000 grant from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to construct the new pool, but then officials received a phone call from the state asking if they would be interesting in upping the total grant award to $500,000 in exchange for doing a project that could become a state showpiece for green energy.
“They had a green initiative deal from the TVA coal ash spill,” Turner said. “They wanted to do a project with it that was bigger. We worked with their engineers on a way to make this new pool green or energy efficient. Altogether, we went from a $250,000 project to about a $1.1 million project because the state wanted us to install a model pool. It has features like open air restrooms. We also used fly ash in our concrete, which is a waste product.”
Other features of the new pool include a recycled glass bead filter system, a retractable pool cover to maintain ideal temperatures, skylights, and LED lighting. The project was even highlighted by the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA). The project serves as a major draw for the city.
“We’re only a town of about 1,700, but we still serve a pretty big region,” Turner said. “We have people who come from North Alabama to use the pool. We attract a lot of people from outside the city limits.”
Other improvements have also been implemented at Burke Park. The city added 33 acres to the park after the family of a late adjoining property owner offered the property to the city for sale. A $68,000 recreational services grant from TDEC helped the city purchase the $102,000 property, doubling the size of Burke Park. The city is presently working on nature trails along the creek that goes through the park property.
Renovations are also underway to the city’s community center at the park. Originally constructed in 1981, improvements will be the result of another $412,981 TDEC grant, with an equal match for the city. The project will include ADA compliance upgrades as well as increasing space for kitchens and gatherings as well as adding new storage space.
Of course, officials haven’t neglected the city’s two other major park properties: the Loretto Lions Club Sports Complex and Weathers Park downtown. After being struck by two tornados in a span of 18-months, the city also had to make renovations to the Loretto Lions Club Sports Complex. The softball and baseball fields at the complex are utilized by local schools as well as citizens. A recent addition to the complex is a new disc golf course that the city worked with an area disc golf club to create in 2018.
Working with Lawrence County officials and the local telecommunications company, the city was also able to complete $80,000 worth of renovations at its downtown Weathers Park for $40,000 as well as add free wifi to the area. The park has become a popular destination for downtown events and festivals.
After utilizing several Self Routes to School Program grants to improve sidewalk accessibility to Loretto High School, the city received two Transportation Alternative Program grants that are being leveraged to both improve sidewalks downtown and connect the downtown area with the sidewalks installed near the high school. Turner said the next phase of this project is applying for a Multi-Modal Access Grant through TDOT to extend the sidewalks northward to Burke Park.
Within the past year, the city has also utilized a CDBG to replace aging fire trucks. The city’s fire department had three trucks constructed in 1997, 1995, and 1975. The CDBG grant allowed the department to replace the 1975 model with a newer one.
“We were really struggling as far as fire engines,” Turner said. “Within the past year, we have purchased a 2009 ladder truck as well. The city has never had a ladder truck, but we have schools and industries. That was a good move for us. Our ISO score has gone down.”
Infrastructure improvements the city has accomplished included extending a waterline through the USDA Emergency Water grant program. Loretto’s municipal water system serves not only residents within the city limits but also residents outside of it through partnerships with Lawrence County.
“I’m proud of that one because it was actually for people right outside our city limits,” Turner said. “They didn’t have access to clean water. Their wells and springs were polluted. We couldn’t get a bid on the work, so we did it ourselves. We extended that city water line out there.”
The city also recently improved its wastewater through an ARC project that will improve inflow and infiltration.
“Our sewer system was put in the early 1990s,” Turner said. “We take in more water than we should sometimes, a lot of times from rain water. We want to improve our system so if industries want to locate here we can handle their wastewater as well. We want to decrease the amount we are treating so we can put more industries online. We also have a water tank project out for bid now. It’s not always about what we do for Loretto itself, but for our whole area.”
Turner said maintain relationships and thinking outside the box are key for small communities that want to realize their big ideas.
“Relationships are the key to everything,” Turner said. “The mayor of Lawrenceburg, the Lawrence County mayor, and the mayors of St. Joseph and Ethridge and I have great relationships. Our state senator and state representative hear from me a lot. You just have to stay in contact with everyone you can. Be creative within the confines that you can be and look for partners. It’s all about making things better for each resident we serve. Be ready and know what your needs and wants are so when funding comes you are ready to jump at the opportunity.”