Carver Gym in South Bunnell today is the picture of dilapidation, physically and financially. Politically, it’s just back from the brink of dilapidation. It has a few months’ reprieve.
The old gym, which loosely serves as a community center for the neighborhood—and the closest thing that neighborhood, one of the poorest in the county, has to a recreation center—is not air conditioned, it’s badly insulated, it’s maintained at subsistence levels, and even that is falling below subsistence next year: the Flagler County Commission, which owns and runs the building, cut funding 25 percent, to around $90,000. Two county staffers run programs within the building, but their future is uncertain.
When the commission considered shutting the building altogether earlier this year, South Bunnell, the Bunnell City Commission, the school board and others mobilized, at times clumsily, to keep it open, but without clear solutions to an overriding problem: with what money? County Commissioner Barbara Revels agreed to lead the effort through a new committee established last month, with representatives from all interested governments.
That committee met for the first time last month, and branched off into a subcommittee charged with coming up with immediate recommendations for the county commission. That subcommittee met Tuesday morning, with School Superintendent Janet Valentine leading an ideas session with markers and a chart diagnosing the gym’s present and future. Those ideas will be submitted to the larger committee on Sept. 23, and, in turn, subsequently conveyed to the county commission.
The sub-committee isn’t lacking for ideals. But it’s still lacking money. It imagines Carver Gym as a destination for toddlers, children, teen-agers, adult and the elderly. The place would be “a type of full-service center,” Valentine said, with access to technology, education, the arts, and a sports complex. It would be a cool place to be, physically and psychologically. It would have a pool, a concession stand, a sound system, a stage, and classroom space. It would be a place where everyone belongs, and it would be “full of people all the time” (as Valentine wrote it on the rosy chart).
That’s the goal, anyway. But Carver Gym has never had a problem scoping out great goals. It still has a problem finding dollars to realize those goals.
There are hopeful signs. The school board has committed to holding GED classes there. Valentine is also committing to technology improvements in the building—wiring it for better Internet access and in more than one location (currently there’s just one such connection). It’s not clear whether the school district will provide Internet service. The county isn’t paying for full operations at the gym. But it agreed to replace the gym’s air conditioning units. (That’s a start, but it isn’t a solution: the county is not spending money on improving the building’s insulation, so the improved air conditioning will also mean plenty of wasted energy.)
Beyond that, it’s back to ideals. In Valentine’s list of one-year goals, the biggest item is finding a lead agency that would be in charge of Carver Gym’s overall direction. The county is providing diminishing dollars, but it’s not that lead agency. The Boys and Girls Club, which was in the gym for almost a decade, left, feeling unappreciated and unwanted there.
Other one-year goals: a mentoring program and a volunteer coordinator; transportation for children who need to get to the gym; a grants committee; a public advisory board for the gym; a community fund-raiser; and, of course, more money for more staff and renovations.
The last column on Valentine’s rosy chart was devoted to the next two months’ goals. It was the last column left to fill, and the most critical. “Plug in agencies and services—who is coming to the table with this?” Valentine asked. The Northeast Florida Community Agency would be a possibility. So would the YMCA, but only if they’re paid (making the YMCA a non-starter for now). But the real lead agency remains the one that wants to pull out: the county. The committee will be asking for a permanent funding commitment from the county—the very same commitment the county signaled it was not prepared to make beyond this year.
When Valentine asked the county’s Heidi Petito—whose task list leans toward the colossal already—whether she’d be willing to be in charge of establishing an advisory board, there was silence. “This is the problem,” Valentine conceded, “there’s a lot of work, there’s a lot of different facets with this.” But Petito agreed, provided she had help. Her helper: Chris Borgman, one of the most vocal proponents of keeping Carver Gym the county’s responsibility.
Other goals for the next two months: establishing a mentoring program, finding ways to pay for volunteers’ background checks, which can be costly, and setting up a bank account for the gym’s fund-raising arm. Look for a booster club called the Friends of Carver Gym.
“If that advisory committee was the next step and was established, then that committee could take the day to day work of this,” Valentine said, 70 minutes into the meeting.