Tough Decisions Ahead on Recreation Facilities

Atlantic Avenue Recreation Center, Auditorium.

Editor’s Note: Faith Ross has resigned from the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee so she can devote her time to inform citizens about some difficult choices on recreation centers that face the city in the coming budget year. She prepared this admirably neutral and well-balanced report.

By Faith Ross

At a July 12 meeting of the Fernandina Beach  Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee meeting , members were asked to list their top five priorities for the city’s capital improvement recreation budget.

 Given recent bad news from building inspections conducted by an outside inspection company, it became clear that the priorities for parks and recreation were going to come down to “life and limb” safety items.

 For example, there is a daylight-sized crack in the wall of the Atlantic Recreation Center (ARC) auditorium where the building has (according to the inspector’s report) dropped 10 inches on one side.  The building, at 2500 Atlantic Ave., immediately needs a structural evaluation and roughly $625,000 worth of repairs to put it back into good repair.

To add to the mix, the ARC is located in the 100-year flood plain.  Additional money will likely be required to flood-proof the building to bring it up to code.

The MLK building , at 1200 Elm St., also is suffering from structural concerns.  Several wall cracks were noted in the preliminary reports with a request that a structural engineering report be obtained immediately to evaluate the building’s structural integrity.

 As a result of the draft building report information, a short discussion was held as to whether the ARC auditorium should be torn down or repaired since it is an underused facility that is costly to heat and air condition.

 As a meeting participant put it, the needs of the community may have changed.  Do we really need the ARC or its auditorium?

 These are tough questions, and the community should be included in the discussion. Tearing down old structures in the city generally brings about angst and division.  However, when faced with the possibility that several million dollars of taxpayer money will be put into rescuing an underused auditorium that generates $10,000 a year in revenue (which does not cover its electric bills), should give one pause for thought.

The few events are held in the auditorium. Another 6,000 square feet of meeting space is available at a hotel down the street.  If just the auditorium were taken down, what would we want to put there? Could something be safely located there there in a FEMA Special Hazard Flood Zone?

    As a result of the recent building inspections, the priority list of the committee  quickly changed to a “life and limb” public safety list.  Atlantic Recreation Center and its auditorium were placed at the top of the priority list.  It was not only listed as a structural safety concern, but it was also listed to spark a discussion with the public.

Does it, or parts of it, need demolition or replacement? Can dollars be better spent?  After the ARC on the list came the lighthouse (also facing possible structural issues), which was followed with the replacement of the baseball field backstops, the Seaside boardwalk (which is in bad shape), and finally came the annual structural repairs needed for the skatepark.

 City leaders need to hear your thoughtful comments. You can use the comments function in the Observer (keep them short, please), or you can contact the city manager or council members directly.

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Alyce Parmer
Alyce Parmer (@guest_65789)
1 year ago

Quality of life is one of the factors that makes FB special, and its recreational facilities are an important component of what makes our city special. The ARC and MLK pools, ball fields, playgrounds and our beach provide important places for children’s and adult’s recreation. They are not less important than other budget line items. Non-city residents use these recreation venues and they need to share the load. Annex the south side of this island and increase city tax revenues.

Tammi Kosack
Tammi Kosack(@tammi-kosack)
1 year ago

These are the things that must be considered, along with maintaining ordinary services provided by the city, when assessing the millage rate. It’s easy and popular to say let’s reduce taxes, but it’s not so popular to have to cut safety or services. If we want our city to be safe, clean, provide sporting opportunities, etc, we must contribute accordingly. If we want things to be cut or to decay due to deferred maintenance, then a roll back rate of taxes would be the choice. Ultimately it is the citizens’ decision to let the commission know what we want.

The proverbial time to fish or cut bait.

Bob Tankel
Bob Tankel(@bob-tankel)
1 year ago

I can’t imagine how these facilities were “suddenly” found to be so decrepit. How many more tax dollars were brought in and where did they go?

Joe Blanchard
Joe Blanchard(@jlblan2)
1 year ago

Probably the best solution for the ARC auditoriun is to demo it. Leave the floor pad and use it as a tennis, basketball court. Place subsurface anchor eyes in the floor so tents can be anchored to the floor. The tents would be used used for any covered events.

debbie helwig
debbie helwig(@dhelwig)
1 year ago

Does anyone on these governing boards or advisory committee consider maintenance costs for these amenities? As a city resident and taxpayer I’d rather have one or two amenities that are well maintained.

cindy martinage
cindy martinage (@guest_65797)
1 year ago

This is the type of items that do need to be addressed and each time I hear them come up the talk is always that the city doesn’t have enough money. So why would we want to fund the Beach Access Similarity items that were on display last week at the rec center? It is simply crazy that people think this will be good for the island but will really help non-islanders (especially Georgia-based people) while fixing our dilapidated buildings go unfunded.

Tammi Kosack
Tammi Kosack(@tammi-kosack)
1 year ago

This is an excellent point made. The eye candy looks good on paper and may perhaps look good at ribbon cutting but what happens 2,5,10 years down the road?

The idea of demo of the building, (while leaving the pool) is interesting. And what if the land was left to revert to a native green space, with access left for the park?

John Goshco
John Goshco (@guest_65798)
1 year ago

Although it’s not strictly within the category of recreation, don’t forget the “unsafe” concrete structure beneath Brett’s restaurant. It’s another expensive demolition project looming on the horizon. While replacing the portion beneath Brett’s is optional, the portion of the structure which provides access to the Marina (recreation) must be replaced.

Jackie Dorst
Jackie Dorst (@guest_65800)
1 year ago

Thanks to Faith Ross for the concise summary on the recreation facilities status. The Atlantic Recreation center auditorium is no longer functional. Therefore as a city taxpayer, please schedule the demolition and save the dollars for facilities used by city residents.

Barnes Moore
Barnes Moore (@guest_65809)
1 year ago

What would the cost be to demo the auditorium but leave the pool and gym intact? Is that even a viable option? It seems the pool gets a fair amount of use along with the playground, but I am not sure how much use the gym gets. Investing heavily to save a building that is very underutilized and expensive to maintain, heat and cool does not appear to be a good idea.

Callie Wilder
Callie Wilder (@guest_65810)
1 year ago

As a meeting participant put it, the needs of the community may have changed. Do we really need the ARC or its auditorium?

I can’t help but feel like this is another ploy to take away a community feature kids & young families use with the intent of making FB best suited for retirees. First came the removal of Central Park playground equipment, then the threat of moving the ball fields from their central location to replace them with a walking path & now removing the ARC & auditorium? The needs of any community are constantly evolving but will someone at COFB please make note & hear us that CHILDREN & YOUNG FAMILIES ARE STILL HERE. That has not changed. Children & young families are still visiting & spending their vacation money here. Retirees have grandchildren who are visiting. Yes, we need the ARC & it’s auditorium. The ARC hosts summer camps, exercise opportunities, the pool, swim lessons, a playground, private events that locals cannot afford to host at more expensive venues, the Halloween festival my kids look forward to, arts & crafts festivals, and the list goes on.

Joe Blanchard
Joe Blanchard(@jlblan2)
1 year ago
Reply to  Callie Wilder

Only the auditorium should be demo’ed. all the other facilities are heavily used and are needed by the local citizenry.

DAVID LOTT(@dave-l)
1 year ago

Sadly, the duplication of recreational facilities in the city goes back to the days of segregation and still exists to some degree today. The Peck Auditorium offers an excellent alternative to the Atlantic Avenue facility, so tear down the AA auditorium and let folks use the Peck Auditorium or go to a private venue. This city, along with so many municipalities, has a poor record of facility structural maintenance as those expenditures are generally at the bottom of the priorities list. Everyone likes “new and shiney” but to keep roofs and windows from leaking and floors/walls from cracking, sound maintenance and replacement is required. The City has way above the normal parks footprint in terms of square footage, but that expansive asset costs money to maintain.

Ernest Davis
Ernest Davis(@epd3)
1 year ago

The Atlantic Recreation Center and all of its facilities are located below the street level of Atlantic Avenue. Eagan’s Creek during northeasters at high tide already threaten to overtop Atlantic Avenue – just look at the debris line at the edge of the sidewalk. A close strike by a hurricane at high tide would ruin it. Sea level rise requires an orderly retreat from that location.

Dot Simmons
Dot Simmons (@guest_65847)
1 year ago

Really? No ARC? The pool facility is used daily. There are 2 “fully attended” water aerobics classes a day and immediately after the pool is used for the home schooling community and from my observation the pool is full of participants during that hour also. The afternoon is used by many town folks for open swim and lap swim. It is a valuable part of our community used daily. Yes, the building is in bad need of repairs especially the locker rooms and showers used by at least 100-150 town citizens daily. That area is still what it was back in the 1960’s, it’s been neglected for years by the city. I can’t speak for the gym or auditorium uses, but I do know I have been to the auditorium for community functions at least twice a year and believe I voted there in the past. Does it need to be torn down vs repaired, that is up to the committee but it most definitely is a needed community area.

James (@guest_65866)
1 year ago

FEMA estimates that there are millions of residential and commercial structures in Florida that lay within 100 year flood zones and who carry insurance thru the Flood Insurance Program. Why would a structure in the flood zone need to be demolished? Is that what private property owners do?
Many options include insurance, flood proof the existing structure, or even run bare and fund a capital reserve (self insurance) for repair of flood damage. ARC probably wont float away, nor is the ocean lapping at its door steps