04/28/05 — Community Building plans still in limbo

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Community Building plans still in limbo

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on April 28, 2005 1:51 PM

Nearly a year after the Community Building was destroyed by fire, plans for a replacement remain in limbo because some people believe the suggested new location isn't safe.

Recreation Director Neil Bartlett convened a joint meeting of the building's trustees and directors Wednesday afternoon. He had hoped to rally the boards behind a proposal to rebuild at the former Robinson Park on South Center Street.

Bartlett invited Police Chief Tim Bell to talk about how rarely his officers have to respond to crimes in the area.

But some board members were not convinced.

"I have very serious reservations about this site," said Bill Powell. "I haven't talked to anyone who thinks this is a good location. ... There's a high risk that the public won't support us."

The 90-minute meeting ended without the boards reaching any agreement on how to proceed. Ed Borden, chairman of the trustees, asked both boards' members to contact him with suggestions.

The Goldsboro Parks and Recreation Commission has endorsed a two-block area for the new Community Building. It is bordered by Pine Street to the north, John Street to the east, Elm Street to the south and James Street to the west.

If this site is selected, a one-block section of Center Street would be closed and the city would need to acquire some properties on South James Street. The construction would not disturb homes that front on John Street.

One of the location's advantages is the city already owns most of the land that would be needed, Bartlett said.

He showed the boards a design of how the property might be laid out. The new Community Building would be centered on the property, facing north on Center Street. In front would be a plaza that would include a memorial to the county's war dead.

"Whatever the design, a memorial aspect will be a part of it forever and ever -- that's a given," Bartlett said.

The plan also shows tennis and basketball courts lining James Street, although Bartlett said he would not support outdoor basketball courts in the area.

The building would enclose a pool with a "zero-depth entry," Bartlett said. A gently sloping entrance would make it easier for toddlers, seniors and people with limited mobility to enter the water and feel comfortable.

It would also have a "junior high-sized" gym, which would be the size of a basketball court when bleachers were pulled out and two courts when bleachers were stored.

Bartlett acknowledged there have been concerns about some of the neighborhoods in that area.

In fact, less than 10 years ago, the area along South James Street was known as "The Block," a notorious drug-trafficking area, Bell said. "I spent many hours down there, working on drug crimes."

But a law enforcement crackdown drove away the dealers, leaving behind vacant properties. Many of those were condemned and torn down. The police department now has little reason to go to that area, Bell said.

"It's hard to have crime when there's no buildings and nothing for people to get into," Bell said.

But some officials are worried that a new community building might attract criminals back to the area.

The Wayne County Memorial Community Building opened in 1925 across Walnut Street from the Wayne County Courthouse as a memorial to county residents who fought and died in World War I. Plaques were later added to recognize casualties of other wars.

The building originally was intended to be home for "patriotic and welfare agencies," such as the American Legion and the Community Chest, a forerunner of the United Way. But it had become more of a recreational facility in recent years. Bartlett's department extensively used its pool and gym for programs.

On May 2, 2004, a fire destroyed the building's interior and collapsed its roof. The trustees, who are technically its owners, decided in November to demolish the remaining walls and rebuild at a larger location.

The trustees have more than $1.8 million in insurance proceeds from the fire. Those funds are in certificates of deposit and money-market accounts at city banks.