County workers are clearing land in south DeKalb for a proposed $1 million soap box derby park that has yet to be approved.
Ted Rhinehart, the county’s deputy chief operating officer for infrastructure, said the county is “clearing and prepping the site so that if this bid goes forward, [contractors are] ready to go ahead and jump in.”
“We’ll do whatever site prep work we can do ourselves,” Rhinehart said. “That’ll save us a few dollars and it gets the site prepared, so that it’s good to go.”
The 890-foot, two-lane derby track has been deferred since Jan. 1 by the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners, which was concerned about how much use the track would get.
“That’s part of the issue with the soap box derby,” said Commissioner Lee May during a finance committee meeting May 15. “It’s the fact that I don’t know if we’re going to get the best bang for our bucks in terms of activity level.
“This thing won’t be used every day throughout the year,” May said. “When there are not events there, there’s not really an opportunity for a lot of usage of the facilities.”
The county’s administration is now trying rework the proposal, which calls for the track to be constructed at 1253 Rock Chapel Road adjacent to the Bransby YMCA on 10.9 acres. The land was purchased last year with funds from a parks bond approved by taxpayers in 2001.
The original plans for the derby park would have had a multi-use building for supplies and cars, a classroom, concession stand, a finish-line pavilion and a grandstand.
May, who wants to use the site for multiple purposes, suggested that the county consider additional ideas such as skateboarding and BMX biking.
“It just a different use that allows more activity,” May said.
Rhinehart said the county is looking at the site feasibility for other uses.
The proposed soap box derby facility, Bransby YMCA and “other potential amenities around there could help make [the area] a regular draw for a variety of events,” Rhinehart said.
Roy Wilson, director of the county’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, said the county will have its architect look at how the site can be used for skateboarding and BMX bikes, Wilson said.
Wilson said he is also trying to get in touch with soap box organizations in other states to see whether their tracks are used for events other than soap box derbies.
Joe Mazur, president and CEO of All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio, said his goal is to provide year-round programming at the Ohio track.
“Since the last week in April we have had something on our hill every weekend and will have something every weekend through June,” Mazur said. “We want as much on this hill as possible.”
Growing in Akron is an educational program in which schools teach a curriculum using the science of derby racing. In the program, students learn about friction, aerodynamics and construction as part of their schools’ science, technology, engineering and math curriculum.
They then race during a special race day for schools only. The third annual International Soap Box Derby Gravity Racing Challenge event was held May 19.
Two years ago, the program started with two teams and now has grown to 100 teams from schools in Ohio, North Carolina and Maryland.
“It’s a huge potential program,” Mazur said.
“Because of [Georgia’s] weather, we can program a lot more at that track than anywhere,” said Mazur, who helps with event planning for derby tracks around the country.
Mazur said organizers have introduced luging and longboarding at the Akron facility, which includes a skate park and BMX course.
Those additional uses are what commissioners want to be considered for the proposed DeKalb site.
“Soap box seems limited to a certain class,” said Commissioner Elaine Boyer. “Soap boxing seems to be an elite discipline.
“[The facility] just needs to be open to more people,” Boyer said. “It’s public money.”