philip j. lorenz III
After years of a rural county with no convenient place for youth and adults to gather for sports activities, arts and crafts, dance recitals and other recreational activities, a renewed effort is underway to change that trajectory.
A strong desire for establishing a recreation/community center in Franklin County has been expressed for years by area residents with county officials making an effort to do so over the past four to five years, all of which failed, according to County Mayor Richard Stewart.
A newly formed Recreation Building Committee will meet Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the Annex Community Room, to focus further on establishing what the new facility might provide.
Stewart brought the committee to order recently in its first gathering, wasting no time for every member to introduce themselves and briefly speak about their vision, goals and motivation to serve on it before moving on to choosing a chair for the ad hoc committee.
County Commissioner Stanley Bean nominated fellow Commissioner Dave Van Buskirk to chair the committee. The committee agreed on Van Buskirk with unanimous approval.
Stewart said the timing is right to make a concerted effort for this committee to re-engage on trying to establish the center in the county, for several reasons.
“Right now is an excellent time, and I’ll tell you why,” he said. “I was in some meetings with the Tennessee Department of Health, and also with (Tennessee Department of Transportation), and the South Central Tennessee Development District the other day — we talked about how much more money they’re beginning to put into recreation. And they’re looking at all the grants (their) departments get now for people to improve their lives.”
Stewart said those organizations’ viewpoint has shifted to a more proactive, preventative perspective going forward.
Stewart also pointed out that there are more grants available now than in previous years, and it was also his belief that additional grants would be accessible in the future.
In preparation for the new committee to take action on planning and seeking funding to establish a recreation center in the county, Stewart said he has already asked Finance Director Andrea Smith to put around $25,000 into the county buildings budget.
“That will help us to get started,” he said, adding that the county could consider getting a consultant and architect, like Kyle Dunn who helped with the design of the Winchester Swimplex.
“That (funding) would give us a base to start moving on this (project),” Stewart said.
He said two major obstacles to funding a recreation center include the commission’s current agenda to expand the county jail at an estimated $8.9 million cost, plus the middle school replacement project, which may cost $35 million.
Stewart said the community is involved in improving Franklin County’s amenities.
“I think this would be an ideal time for raising money for (a recreation center),” he said. “If you have any land, too, the grants are a lot easier to get, and I think we’ve found a way we can get that land.”
Van Buskirk began the discussion on how to proceed with forming an agenda to develop a plan for the proposed recreation center, what it would provide and how it would be funded.
Committee members then reiterated their vision for the project and what they want it to offer to county residents.
There was a consensus from all committee members that sports activities and physical fitness equipment should be a high priority for the center to provide for young and old alike, but it should also include a place for arts and crafts and computers for youth who are not into sports.
Regarding the cost of the project, Bean and Stewart spoke about teaming up with the county school system to contribute to make the effort feasible. They agreed to contact Director of Schools Dr. Amie Lonas to consider what assistance might be available.
“Right now our recreation consists of kids running through the Wal-Mart parking lot,” he said. “You go out there any night, you see kids out there throwing footballs, throwing Frisbees, running through the parking (lot), and we know what else goes on out there.”
Considering the other expensive issues already facing the County Commission, Bean spoke about the project’s timeline, which he said is critical to the project’s outcome.
“I want to get something done, at least within a year,” Bean said. “I just challenge everyone (here) to take this (project seriously to establish a recreation center) for the next year (as) something that is a high priority.”
He made it clear he is willing to commit one year only to achieve that goal.
Recreation Building Committee members include:
● Van Buskirk, who is a county commissioner and past Chamber of Commerce president.
● Bean, who is a county commissioner, career educator and administrator, past coach.
● Johnny Hughes, who is a county commissioner, University of the South Post Office administrator and community youth sports coach.
● Curtis Francis, who is a Franklin County Sherriff Investigator, minister and volunteer sports coach.
● Dan Sidley, who is a businessman and volunteer Pee Wee League coach.
● Chuck Reed, who is leads the non-profit Tennessee the Edge, who helps children at risk in the community.
● Eric Vanzant, director of the Campora Family Resource Center, and a minister at Agape Ministries in Winchester.
● Holly Eslick, who is South Middle School’s assistant principal.
● Jamie Babian, a North Middle School 6th grade teacher and sports fan.
● Ricky Tipps, who is with radio station WCDT and is a volunteer sports coach.
● Lisa McCord, who is a retired nurse who teaches online nursing courses.
● Thomas Simmons, III, who owns T.C. Simmons Insurance Agency in Winchester and a representative from the Franklin County Recreation Committee.
Van Buskirk said he wants Monday’s meeting to focus on establishing what the recreation center could include. He also would like to get building specifics — size, location, staffing, funding sources and whether it will include outdoor fields.
He said he wants to consider seeking advice from a grant writer to research what funding options are available.