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.