09/08/08 — W.A. Foster Center: Pay to fix it up or shut it down?

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W.A. Foster Center: Pay to fix it up or shut it down?

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on September 8, 2008 1:39 PM

Charles Jackson remembers the year he worked on the renovations to the W.A. Foster Center in the 1970s.

WA Foster

News-Argus/Greg Sousa

Anansi Stephens, 7, watches as her friend, Kayla Hill, plays a game of checkers at the W.A. Foster Recreation Center. Residents of all ages use the center — and have done so for years, local officials report.

"I helped brick this place," the now 66-year-old said. "I studied masonry in school, and this was one of our projects."

More than a quarter of a century later, Jackson is still there, often shooting pool "with the guys."

But the center, which was built in 1938, is not just for seniors.

In fact, a new generation can be found at play inside the facility on Leslie Street -- in the gym dribbling a basketball or in the game room playing foosball.


At a City Council work session June 16, council members discussed what needed to be repaired at the parks and recreation facilities. One of the items up for discussion was the W. A. Foster Center.

And after the council talked briefly about a $50,000 cost to repair the foundation of the building, Councilman Chuck Allen questioned how that amount would get the job done, and whether repairing the building was even "feasible" or worthwhile -- particularly when construction of a new recreation center is scheduled to begin this year.

"Fifty-thousand dollars isn't going to touch the problems at that center," Allen said then.

Councilman Don Chatman responded.

He was less concerned about the money -- thinking about just how long the center has been a mainstay in the neighorhood that surrounds it.

So, when City Manager Joe Huffman asked him that night if the center was something the city should be interested in continuing to maintain and operate, Chatman's answer was, "I say, 'Yes.'"

And when pressed by Allen to explain his answer, he said that if for nothing else, the historical value of the building was worth it.

Because for those like Jackson, the building is more than mortar and brick.

It is a part of who they are.


Jackson says senior citizens in Goldsboro don't really have much of a choice of where to go for recreation.

Herman Park Center has senior activities, but most of the time, there are children running around or scheduled programs going on.

His friend, 78-year-old Carl Wooten, said at his age he and "the fellas" just like to come, relax and play checkers without all the noise and fuss.

And W.A. Foster is "a respectable place," he said.

"I don't know any no better for what we do."

He should know.

He has come to the center for more than 50 years.

He admits there used to be times when the center didn't have the best reputation, when the "younger crowd" would come in and cause a ruckus.

"But we've pushed the bad out," he said.

Robert Bass agreed.

The 61-year-old said the youths know the senior citizens are there, and they will "straighten them out if need be."

"There is no drinking, no gambling, no cursing," he said. "And we have a code of dress. No pants hanging down."

Bass said he comes to the center for the "convenience."

It isn't too far away from his house, and it's where he can come after work to play checkers.

But a generation of seniors is not the only demographic represented within the bricks.

Jim Wilson, 39, says the building is about more than recreation.

"It's a good place for bonding and meeting folks," he said. "Here you get to know the community."

That's why he comes "every day the center is open."

He just can't stay away.

Neither can C.J. Johnson.

He is only 12 years old.

He, too, comes to the center "just about every day" and has for about two years.

He comes to play basketball, one of his favorite sports, and when he isn't shooting hoops, he is in the game room playing pool, foosball or ping pong.

"It's a fun place to learn how to play basketball," he said.

His friend, Tay Davis, agrees.

"We play basketball and just have fun," he said.

Tay, 11, also comes to the center almost every day, and has done so for about five years.

And they aren't alone.

Normally, there is a group of their friends that joins them, ready to play any sort of game or to just hang out in the gym practicing free throws.

"There's usually about 10 or 15 of them here with us," Tay said.


Jack Gentry knows the building on Leslie is getting old.

But just because it is old doesn't mean it should be torn down, he said.

"Look at those," the 64-year-old said, pointing to the center's pool tables. "They are the oldest pool tables in the world, but we don't complain."

And making repairs isn't as big of a deal, or as big of a financial hassle, as he says city officials are making it out to be.

"If it's a lot, do a little bit at a time until it's done," he said. "No one ever said they had to do it all at once."

"We have enough people that come here that pay taxes to support it," Bass added.

So don't ask these men what they would do if the center wasn't there.

Half of them couldn't tell you.

They say they have nowhere else to go.

The rest just shake their heads -- unable to understand the reason anyone would even consider tearing it down.

Gentry and Wooten aren't so sure city officials know what would be lost.

"The people talking about closing it down don't come over here for nothing, unless they have to," Gentry said.

"If they say they are going to close it down, they don't care anything for us," Wooten added. "If they close this place, they're stupid and unpatriotic. It should be an historical place. Other buildings in the city are preserved. Why not W.A. Foster?"

There is too much at stake, not only for them, but for the children who depend on the center, they say.

"If you look around, most of us are retired," Gentry said. "It's kind of like an outing for us to come here. We look forward to coming because we don't have anywhere else to go.

"But I feel worse for the kids than us. If you take the center away from them, where are they going to go? The streets. At least if they are here, maybe they won't go to jail, maybe they won't get killed."

Like their older counterparts, the boys would rather not think about the center not being there.

"Well, I don't know what we'd do. We'd have to go too far for the Y(MCA)," C.J. said. "We can't walk or ride our bikes there. I normally walk over here."

"We wouldn't have anywhere else to go," Tay added.

And then there is 7-year-old Anansi Stephens.

Her father, Russell, is the recreation center director.

But that makes no difference to Anansi.

She would come even if he didn't work there.

It's a place where she and her friend, Kayla Hill, play games on the computer.

"And I like to play dodgeball," Anansi said.

Sometimes, the girls have to do their homework at the center before they can play, but they don't mind.

"Yea, we have to do boring old homework sometimes," Anansi said. "But that's OK."

There is nowhere else they would rather be.

"(If we couldn't come to the center), we would be sad," Anansi said. "I would probably just sit around at home and watch TV if I couldn't come here."


Assistant center director Gladys McClary said many of the children who come to W.A. Foster think of it as a second home.

It's a place they can unwind with friends and exercise, too.

And the praise for the center doesn't end there.

There are adults who feel just as strongly about the facility as the children do, Ms. McClary being one of them.

"There are some people out there that have grown up in and with this place," she said.

And as for the possibility of the center seeing a numbered amount of days?

Well, she hopes the councilmen who want to tear it down will take a long walk from City Hall.

"I think they should come down here, and once they see these children's faces, they will know. They will know what this center means to them," she said. "Until then, they won't know."