After delays, community center on track

COVINGTON - After a few setbacks, a community center planned for Laseter Street in the Nelson Heights neighborhood is back on track.

A ground-breaking ceremony was held for the center more than a year ago, but additional grading and other site work is just now getting under way in preparation for construction.

The delays were due to a change in design which was necessary to save money, according to Cheryl Delk, special projects coordinator for the county.

Part of the change was reorienting the building so that it no longer faces a dirt drive owned by the city of Covington. The plan was to pave the driveway, but that would have resulted in additional stormwater fees and site work to address stormwater runoff.

Instead, the design was changed and the driveway will be gravel. The project has gone through three different site plans, according to Delk.

County commissioners approved an $11,000 change order for the project at their March 3 meeting. The change order was needed due to an increase in material costs for roofing, concrete and other items, as well as a requirement by the fire marshal that a grease trap and vent be added to the kitchen.

The project is still well within its $556,000 budget, Delk said. Revenues from the special purpose local option sales tax approved in 2005 will pay for $500,000, with $56,000 coming from the general fund.

Thus far, $372,320 has been encumbered, including the $11,000 change order.

That leaves a contingency of $33,589.

"The goal is not to have to use it except for amenities such as picnic tables," once the building is constructed, Delk said.

The community center is the brainchild of District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson, who said it's been a long road to get the project going, noting that the SPLOST was approved in 2005.

"This has been one of the hardest things I've had to go through in my life. I thought it was just a big house, but there is a lot more to it than that," he said.

Once completed, the center will serve as a meeting place for the community. A commercial kitchen will allow groups to cook and serve meals there. Henderson also hopes to have an after-school tutorial program, a computer lab and ball fields there eventually. He has formed a board of directors that has applied for nonprofit status. The board will meet once every two months to handle the business side of running the center, Henderson said.

Construction is expected to be completed around August.

"It's money well spent that in my opinion should have been spent three years ago," Henderson told the board before they approved the change order.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.