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Washington Street officials to run NHCC
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The Nelson Heights Community Center is expected officially to open in August and will be run by the officials at the Washington Street Community Center.

Recreation Commission Director Tommy Hailey said his department will contract with WSCC, which was the most natural choice to run the center, located at the intersection of Laseter and Puckett streets.

“I think the whole intent of the Nelson Heights Community Center was to be run by Washington Street from the beginning. I don’t know how we got sidetracked,” Hailey said.

With the proposed budget cuts, the recreation commission would not have money to hire a full-time program director, so they had to look at contracted services.

“Washington Street is the best option. Several board members suggested them. It was a no-brainer,” he said.

WSCC officials will sign a two-year operating agreement with the recreation commission, with the ability to renew the contract annually. The contract is being finalized by county attorney Jenny Carter and is expected to be signed in the next several days.

WSCC will receive up to $32,000 per year from the recreation commission in order to run  programs and pay for routine maintenance and utilities. The $64,000 was originally appropriated for NHCC in the county’s FY2009 budget and has been added to the recreation commission’s budget.

WSCC officials will be in charge of all programming decisions, and WSCC Executive Director Bea Jackson said the new center would have WSCC’s cornerstone after-school homework tutorial program. She also hoped to have nurturing programs for mothers, a GED program and possibly even collaborative programs with the local juvenile justice department. Jackson said community input would be sought and encouraged as well.

However, the center will take a while to get up and running and Jackson said the early focus would be the tutoring from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

"We’re excited to be able get things going for that community, because they are certainly deserving of such a grand facility. We want the community feel good about the center and give it what they want, success and safe, productive place for youth to go," Jackson said. "It’s a big job, but we feel up to the challenge, we feel like have plenty to do at WSCC, but we do believe we can deliver good quality programming."

Jackson said WSCC’s current operating budget is around $200,000, so the NHCC will have to have fewer programs to accommodate a $32,000 budget. She said much of that money will go toward hiring two employees for NHCC, an operations manager and a program director.

She said it’s taken years for WSCC to build up its funding source and it will take years to build up NHCC’s funding as well. Jackson said she expects to pursue various grants and donations in the future.

In addition, while WSCC is around 6,000 square feet, County Special Projects Coordinator Cheryl Delk said the NHCC is only 3,000 square feet. Therefore, NHCC will only be able to fit around 25 kids at any one time, unlike the 50 or more at WSCC.

While WSCC will control all programming, if any outside groups, like Newton Reads, want to come in and conduct programs, they will have to get permission from the recreation commission’s board of directors.

Hailey said if the recreation commission tried to run the center itself, it would have cost more than $32,000 and would have required an additional county employee, which can’t be afforded.

"(WSCC’s) track record speaks for itself and is impeccable. There was no sense for us to try to duplicate what they already do so well," Hailey said.

The NHCC will be allowed to be rented out for meetings and community events as previously discussed, at the discretion of WSCC. The rental fees will be finalized later, but all rental income will go to the recreation commission and will help cover the cost of the NHCC. Any costs over $32,000 will be covered by the recreation commission. However, any damage to the building, outside of normal wear and tear, will be covered by WSCC.

Hailey is a member of the WSCC Board of Directors, and he will resign to avoid a conflict of interest. In his place, the operating agreement calls for a resident of the Nelson Heights community to be appointed to the WSCC board.

District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson, who worked to get the center on the 2005 SPLOST, has repeatedly stated he wanted the center to primarily benefit the surrounding community. Hailey thanked Henderson for his work and said the board member would serve to ensure the connection to the area residents. Jackson said the tutorial program will be successful only with significant parent participation and she looks forward to working with the community.

WSCC officials will provide monthly reports of all programs to the recreation commission board of directors.

Hailey said all work at the new center is completed including landscaping. Tables and chairs have been purchased and the county is in the process of purchasing a handful of computers for the center. Delk said the total cost to get the center running to date has been $555,412. The NHCC has sat vacant since it was completed last summer.