Nomad Decatur Youth Services needs central location, director says
December 5 – The time has come for Decatur Youth Services to have a permanent home, says its manager, as it is gradually losing access to dispersed facilities, none originally designed for the use of the 27-year-old municipal department.
With DYS already moved from the former Brookhaven Middle School and Carrie Matthews Recreation Center, and soon to be moved from its Aquadome Recreation Center headquarters, principal Brandon Watkins said his department’s needs are clear. He wants a centralized place where he and his staff can accommodate the growing number of children they serve, and he would like to have it as soon as possible.
“We need a campus that has everything we need in one place,” said Watkins, for the more than 35 programs offered by DYS.
Its service uses six vans and two cars to pick up children from their schools and transport them to places where they can get help with tutoring and learning life skills.
“Our main problem right now is that we are working in six different buildings while trying to work with 2,000 children,” Watkins said.
Program coordinator Lemzel Johnson said he enjoys using the facilities operated by Parks and Recreation and owned by the school system, but “sometimes it feels like a stepson” when must request the use of someone else’s property.
Johnson was tasked with developing a facility plan for DYS. He said the group needed 12 offices with three to four classrooms and a recording studio.
One of the classrooms would be designed as a family and consumer science classroom with a kitchen area for a cooking program DYS wants to start, he said.
Watkins and Johnson said the program requires at least two gyms. This could involve two courts in a new facility or an additional gymnasium if the now-closed Carrie Matthews is renovated.
Johnson said they would like one of the gyms to include a stage where they can put on plays and other programs.
“The gym has to be versatile,” Johnson said.
Johnson estimates his plan for a new DYS campus would cost up to $ 8 million.
Several unusual circumstances had an impact on the buildings used by Youth Services.
Schools in the city of Decatur allowed DYS to use the former Brookhaven Middle School, adjacent to the Aquadome on Southwest Fifth Avenue, but that ended when authorities ruled that the chemical contamination of the landfill on which the two installations are located created health risks. The school system sold Brookhaven to 3M Co. last year as part of a settlement over these contaminants.
DYS programming for years took place at the Carrie Matthews Recreation Center on Sixth Street Northwest and the department took over from Parks and Recreation in 2017. The center was closed in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Authorities then became concerned that Carrie Matthews’ floors were collapsing and the city closed the center for testing.
The fate of Carrie Matthews remains undecided, but not promising. A recent engineer’s report indicates that the dirt below the center is soft and unstable. There are ways around the problem, but they would increase the cost of renovations, and city engineer Carl Prewitt said there was no guarantee they would be a permanent solution.
Estimates for the renovation range from $ 2.5 million to $ 4 million.
Councilor Billy Jackson represents the Northwest Decatur district which includes Carrie Matthews and is adamant that its importance to the community means it should be renovated, although he does not see the facility as a solution to the problem. DYS need a centralized headquarters.
“I think the community has shown they want to save Carrie Matthews,” Jackson said. “The city just needs to be prepared to spend the money to save it.”
City Councilor Carlton McMasters said he understands Carrie Matthews’ historic importance to the community, but the lack of guarantees that the repairs will work is a big concern.
“Personally, I want to build something that meets the needs of Watkins and Youth Services,” McMasters said.
City Councilor Hunter Pepper said the city should “tear it down and build something new.”
Youth Services also have a limited time to continue using their main offices at the Aquadome Recreation Center. This facility will be handed over to 3M and demolished as part of a $ 98.4 million legal settlement over the chemical spill on the centre’s property well in advance of its construction.
Chairman of the Board Jacob Ladner, Councilor Kyle Pike and McMasters said they were unsure of the fate of Carrie Matthews’ existing facility, but they are confident the city will build a facility for DYS in the area. of Northwest Decatur, near the Sterrs housing project.
“DYS and Carrie Matthews are really a separate issue,” Ladner said. “I am committed to doing the best for Decatur Youth Services.”
Jackson said DYS was out of space long before recent installation issues arose, and Carrie Matthews should be used for her original purpose, as a community center.
Jackson pointed out that Carrie Matthews switched from managing parks and recreation to DYS as a cost-saving measure in 2017. Youth services had grown too big for the Aquadome, and it’s too big now for the Aquadome. ‘Aquadome and Carrie Matthews combined, though both were available. .
“The need for Youth Services space has grown and been magnified,” Jackson said. “It is important that they have their own space.”
Watkins said youth services were working in too many facilities. Johnson said existing programs have “runaway” youth services and there must be a plan for future growth.
Looking for solutions
Mayor Tab Bowling said Youth Services needs a facility “which is certainly more than a recreation center. What they really need is more of a training center with a gymnasium ”.
Bowling and Watkins said they are working with officials from the Decatur Housing Authority to eventually secure the roughly 3 acres it owns along Memorial Drive Northwest.
According to Morgan County property records, the Looney Living Trust owns the adjacent 5.5 acres. This property may also be of interest to the city.
All eyes are on a $ 35 million portion of 3M’s settlement designated “for the city’s development and construction of a new public recreational facility within the city.”
Watkins has said he would like $ 5 million of the $ 35 million in the Aquadome settlement to be used for a new youth services facility. Some council members, however, would like all the money to be spent on a new recreation center near downtown.
Jackson said youth services should have been specified as a beneficiary of the 3M settlement and, even if it wasn’t, the money for a DYS facility would have to come from the $ 35 million the city is receiving to replace. the Aquadome.
“Youth services are under the roof of the Aquadome, so they should be part of the Aquadome regulation,” Jackson said.
Bowling and Ladner said they didn’t see the city spending $ 8 million on a new DYS facility, as Johnson suggested, and Ladner said he didn’t know where the money would come from. He said the money could come from the 3M settlement, a $ 20 million bond issue that the council discussed research or the city’s $ 20 million unallocated reserve balance.
“We will find the funding,” Ladner said. “There are a lot of ways to pay for this, and we’ll make sure DYS has great facilities. “
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