Tough decisions ahead regarding leisure 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 educating citizens about some of the tough choices about recreation centers that the city will face in the upcoming fiscal year. She has prepared this admirably neutral and balanced report.

By Faith Ross

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

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

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) fallen 10 inches on the one hand. The building, located at 2500 Atlantic Ave., needs an immediate structural assessment and approximately $625,000 in repairs to restore it to good condition.

To add to the mix, the ARC is located in the 100-year-old floodplain. Additional funds will likely be needed to protect the building from flooding in order to bring it up to code.

The MLK building at 1200 Elm Street also suffers from structural problems. Several cracks in the walls were noted in the preliminary reports with a request to immediately obtain a structural engineering report to assess the structural integrity of the building.

Following the information on the draft construction report, a brief discussion took place on whether the ARC Auditorium should be demolished or repaired as it is a facility under -used which is expensive to heat and cool.

As one meeting participant said, 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 city structures usually causes angst and division. However, faced with the possibility that several million dollars of taxpayers’ money will be invested in rescuing an underutilized auditorium that generates $10,000 in revenue per year (which does not cover its electricity bills) , we must think.

The few events take place in the auditorium. Another 6,000 square foot meeting space is available at a hotel down the street. If only the auditorium was demolished, what would we want to put there? Could something be safely located there in a FEMA special risk flood zone?

As a result of recent building inspections, the committee’s priority list quickly morphed into a “life and bodily” public safety list. The Atlantic Recreation Center and its auditorium have been placed at the top of the priority list. It was not only listed as a structural safety issue, but it was also listed to generate discussion with the public.

Should it, or parts of it, need demolition or replacement? Can the money be better spent? After ARC on the list came the lighthouse (also facing possible structural issues), which was followed by the replacement of the baseball field’s safety nets, the seaside promenade (which is in poor condition ), and finally the annual structural repairs needed for the skatepark.

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

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Richard F. Gandhi