Center will be run by rec. panel

COVINGTON -- The Board of Commissioners agreed Tuesday night that the Newton County Recreation Commission will run the new Nelson Heights Community Center after months of disagreement over the building's management and purpose.

District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson, who spearheaded the project, asked that before the vote, a committee of community members be allowed to make a presentation. The group was scheduled to present to the board at its Feb. 16 meeting but did not show. Henderson said the group didn't know about the meeting.

But Commission Chairman Kathy Morgan said Henderson, along with the Rev. Willie Smith, who was tapped to facilitate community involvement in the project, along with representatives from IECDG (a nonprofit that volunteered to assist the community with a business plan) attended a meeting in her office in December and asked to postpone a work session on the issue until February to allow time to formulate a plan. Morgan said Henderson was also given a schedule of all planned work sessions that listed the Feb. 16 date and was notified again by the county clerk two weeks prior to the meeting.

"Notice was given. Whether or not they were prepared to make a presentation to the board at that time is another discussion," Morgan said.

The Recreation Commission did attend the Feb. 16 meeting and presented its plan for the center. Commissioner Nancy Schulz recommended that the community group make its presentation to the Recreation Commission prior to commissioners voting 3-2 to turn management over to the recreation department. Henderson and Commissioner Earnest Simmons were opposed.

Commission Director Tommy Hailey said Wednesday it will be up to the recreation board members whether to hold such a meeting, noting that one of the stipulations of its taking over management was no interference from any outside parties.

Following the meeting, Henderson supplied the Citizen with a prepared statement from a group calling itself the "pre-planning committee" for the Nelson Heights Community Center. In the statement, the committee indicates it has planned various activities and programs for the center, such as after-school tutoring, summer academic camp, resume development and enhancement, computer training and sports.

However, the group asked for a 30-day extension to present a full business plan. Names of committee members were not listed, but the proposed director for the facility was listed as Kenneth Daniels, former principal of Sharp Learning Center.

Hailey said the community center has not yet been issued a certificate of occupancy and there is still landscaping to be done at the site. He said the Recreation Commission will discuss the next steps toward getting the facility open and running at its next board meeting.

"It's just not going to be a quick thing to jump in there and start running programs," he said, but noted that the facility may be available for rent in the interim.

A budgeted position for a program coordinator will likely take six to eight weeks to fill, he said.

At the Feb. 16 meeting, the Recreation Commission asked for assurance that there would be no outside interference in running the center; that $64,000 allocated by commissioners in the 2008 budget is available to use for maintenance and operations, with $32,000 to be used this year and $32,000 next fiscal year; that the Recreation Commission will determine programs that will take place at the center and would apply rental fees for uses such as meetings, baby/wedding showers and family reunions. The building could also be used for county/city and recreation sponsored functions and as a voting precinct.

Hailey said the Recreation Commission is taking over operations of three other facilities in 2010 and 2011: the Cousins Gym; Denny Dobbs Park; and the public park planned for Fairview Estates. If the department faces more funding cuts in the upcoming budget, Hailey said he has doubts as to whether the commission can afford to operate all those new facilities.