Katara Simmons/News-Sun Proposed renovations would expand the Medal of Honor Park in Sebring to 72,000 feet.
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published: Friday, September 20, 2013
Medal of Honor Park gets cautious go-ahead for revovation plans
By BARRY FOSTER
SEBRING - Plans are under way to improve the Highlands County Medal of Honor Park. County commissioners Tuesday, by consensus, gave a conditional go-ahead to Medal of Honor Park Foundation members Harry Oakley and Don Laycock to continue development of a preliminary concept and enhancement plan that could see a new road built and the addition of new structures.
The proposal would expand the park on 72,000 square feet of property currently unused on the grounds that house the Highlands County Veterans Service Office and the Highlands County Health Department.
"What I think they're asking is a consensus from us that we will work with them on it," County Commissioner Ron Handley said. "It may not be 72,000 square feet by the time we get done."
Commission Chair Jack Richie echoed those sentiments.
"I don't see any reason not to proceed - just don't come to the county asking for any money," he said.
While expressing support for the idea, Commissioner Don Elwell cautioned the committee to take into consideration the possible future expansion of parking at the facility as well as the building itself.
"We don't want to paint ourselves into a corner," he said. "I think there are an awful lot of considerations here as this moves forward."
County Facilities Director David Flowers told commissioners currently there is no master plan for the property. In addition to the Health Department and Veterans Services operation, it has been suggested that the Highlands County Sheriff's Office could ultimately be headquartered there as well.
Moreover, Flowers said, while it would be a beautiful park and a wonderful tribute, as presented, there were no provisions for restrooms or for current or long-term maintenance of the grounds, walks or monuments.
"I am just trying to be realistic about this," he said. "We do not have the staff to maintain a park of this magnitude."
Laycock, a certified general contractor, showed the commission plans the group had laid out with the assistance of an architect. Laycock has done work on such projects as the Dollywood theme park.
Among other things, the pair asked that the current road coming into the facility be named Medal of Honor Drive, to signal entrance into the park and requested the placement of a "larger and bolder" sign.
There are 21 Florida veterans who have earned the Medal of Honor, dating back to the Indian Wars and extending up to the most recent recipient from the conflict in Iraq. Currently, all that is listed for those veterans at the county's facility are the name, the conflict, and dates served engraved on large granite stones.
"You don't get the feeling of what these men sacrificed their lives for," Laycock said.
The new proposal would change that, with each of the veteran's pictures added with a page-long description of the acts of valor performed by each of them. Those tributes would be enshrined in a gazebo, dubbed "The Hall of Citations."
A number of new flagpoles also have been suggested to carry flags depicting the three different incarnations of the medals of honor bestowed upon the servicemen over the years.
Landscaping, said Laycock, would be provided by the Florida Native Plant Society, which has indicated they would help with the plan.
Oakley told commissioners the local park is "one of a kind," being the only Medal of Honor Park that represents only those recipients from the state.
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