The effort to rebuild the old R.L. Cousins High School gym was recently given a large helping hand thanks to the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation's donation of $250,000 to the project.
While the Cousins Community Center currently houses a satellite campus for Troy University and offices of the Department of Motor Vehicles, the gym has remained empty.
The grant will be used to rehabilitate the gym, which has fallen into severe disrepair. Once construction improvements are complete Project Adventure, a local nonprofit that houses and educates at risk youth, and the Newton County Recreation Department will jointly share the gym.
A $500,000 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax allocation has also been designated for the project.
An affiliate of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation is specifically focusing on the issue of childhood obesity. To that end the foundation has encouraged nonprofits to submit grant applications for sports field and facilities development projects.
John Bare, vice president for Strategic Planning and Evaluation of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, described the grant process as very competitive, with the Cousins project competing against 12 other sports field development projects. The Cousins project was the only one selected to receive funding from the foundation this year.
Bare said the Cousins project stood out to the grant selection committee because of "the remarkable collaboration between the community center and the Parks and Recreation Department to make sure the gymnasium is going to be used seven days a week."
According to Project Adventure Director Cindy Simpson, the county Recreation Department and Project Adventure partnered up to write the grant.
"The Recreation Department has been great," Simpson said. "To me it really shows a good effort on partnerships within a community to get something done. They have a need. We have a need. We can share it and we're saving a historical site at the same time."
Simpson said Project Adventure would use the gymnasium during the day for physical education classes. During the evening hours and on weekends the gym will be open for the use of the Recreation Department.
According to Tommy Hailey, Newton County Recreation Department director, the Cousins Center has signed a long-term lease with the Recreation Department for the gym.
Hailey said he envisioned the Recreation Department using the refurbished gym for several things including a satellite recreation center down the road as well as another location for basketball games. The department currently has two different locations for its basketball games.
"The basketball program has seen so much growth that the gymnasium will be a welcome addition for us," Hailey said. "Growth there is unreal."
Hailey said he also believed the gymnasium could be used as a community center.
Hailey said the Recreation Department is working with Peter H. Hand and Associates (the architectural firm which designed the Turner Lake Center) on designs for the Cousins gym. Hailey said he expects to sign a contract with the firm in the next month.
Whether the $750,000 already raised for the project will be enough to completely rehabilitate the gym remains to be seen.
Hailey said he wouldn't know just how much it would cost to rebuild the gym until a contractor was brought onto the project and examined the site. Hailey said he expected the gym would need a new floor and water pipes among other things.
"I think everything's going to depend on what kinds of headaches and problems you get," Hailey said. "Whatever budget we've got to work with we will make do with. $750,000 will take us a long way to getting that gym restored."
Simpson said Project Adventure would continue efforts to raise an additional $500,000 for the project.
"You name it, it needs it," Simpson said of the gym's current state.
LaRhonda Jackson, communications manager for the Atlanta Falcons, said a tentative date for the check presentation ceremony has been set for Dec. 6 at the Cousins Center.
According to Bare, The Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation invests $2 million a year in nonprofit programs across Georgia, which are dedicated to improving physical fitness.
For more information about the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation visit www.afyf.org.