Carver Gym in South Bunnell, whose future was in doubt earlier this summer, is no longer at risk of closing. That’s certain. The Flagler County Commission, which owns the gym and pays the $120,000 or so a year to keep it running, has backed off that proposal. The question now is how to keep the place open, functional and paid for even as one of its main programs for the past 11 years–the Boys & Girls Club–is abandoning it for another site.
- Black Community Will Protest Against Ceding Carver Gym Either to Bunnell or to Other Clubs
- Boys & Girls Club Is Quitting Carver Gym
- Maneuvers Over Carver Gym Reopen Wounds Flagler Claims to be Mending
- Bunnell’s Crain-Brady Leads Half-Secretive Meeting of 4 Gov’t Agencies on Carver Gym
- School Board: Closing Carver Gym Not an Option; How Bunnell Killed Carver Housing
- A Confused but Adamant Bunnell Commission Wants Carver Gym to Stay Open
- How Race and Deception Are Cleaving the Fate of Bunnell’s Carver Gym
One of those proposals is to pay for just 75 percent of the gym’s costs, with Bunnell picking up 25 percent.
The commission held a workshop Monday morning to field questions and possibilities, with School Superintendent Janet Valentine and the Bunnell city administration at the table–and several dozen members of the Carver Gym community in the audience, and occasionally at the microphone, forcefully advocating for a permanent solution. “If you’re going to caretake, caretake,” Marion Irving told the commissioners in tones emphatic and frustrated. (“I hope that this does not come back to haunt me,” she added: Irving, who works in Teen Court, is on the county’s payroll.)
But there were also no changes to what was known before the meeting: “The city of Bunnell is not knocking on the door wanting this to happen,” Bunnell City Manager Armando Martinez said, referring to the possibility that Bunnell would financially take over Carver Gym. Even if Bunnell took over the gym, it would expect the county to keep paying its share. Valentine said that aside from adult education programs, the school district was not in a position to pay for children’s programming there.
“What I’m looking for is the best solution to serve the community out there,” Commissioner Milissa Holland said. “From an efficiency standpoint, we have to come up with some real solutions.” Partnerships would be the most productive. But from an economic standpoint, Holland is not comfortable with assuming that the gym is used by children beyond Bunnell’s population, as Martinez says it is. “Just as I would not expect Bunnell residents to pay for programs in the city of Palm Coast or the city of Flagler Beach, I would not expect it the other way,” Holland said. Yet even she was increasingly resistant to turning over the gym to Bunnell, in a proposal worked out by Martinez and County Manager Craig Coffey. That arrangement would grant Bunnell county money as, essentially, a grant, with no strings attached. Bunnell would decide what to do with the money and the gym. Holland is opposed to that approach.
Holland pressed the case for more structured programming at the gym regardless. She is critical (as have been various members of the school board and the Bunnell city commission) of the gym being used as a place where children run in and out free of any programmatic structure. The Flagler County Youth Center, for example, which the county pays for ($110,000 annually) and the school district runs with its own staffers, “is a very controlled environment,” Valentine said. Not so Carver Gym, whose two staffers are beloved by the local community but who run the gym as a community center, free to those who wish to come and go.
That’s how it should be, County Commissioner Bob Abbott said. ““I don’t think anyone here has the right to tell them what they’re going to get,” Abbott said, referring to the gym’s current users. ” I think they should be telling us.” That drew applause from the 35 or so Carver Gym supporters, children and adults, in the meeting room (at the Emergency Operations Center). It was also a radical change from Abbott, who, when the commission first discussed closing the gym in June, was all for it. Abbott is running for reelection.
County Commission Chairman George Hanns was for keeping the gym open all along. Abbott wants to keep it open, and to keep the county paying for it. A third vote would ensure that, at least next year. Commissioner Alan Peterson remains in favor of keeping the gym open, but opposed to paying for it with county money, at least exclusively so. He’s willing to phase out that commitment over a long period. Holland is looking for another agency at least to run programs in there–not the county. But even she appears to be backing off from turning the gym over to Bunnell (or anyone else) without guarantees about how it would be used, and for whom.
Another strong vote in favor of keeping Carver Gym going came from Commissioner Barbara Revels, who had also favored closing it previously.
Revels began speaking today with an apology–and repeated that apology three times–to the Carver Gym community. She had planned to visit the facility formally in previous years, and hadn’t done so until recently. “Sorry I didn’t do it before, sorry I didn’t go there more often, it opened my eyes dramatically to what we’re talking about here today.”
Revels was uncomfortable with a proposal from Bunnell to use the gym as a police station if that means taking rooms away rooms from children’s programs–or that the gym would become a structure for Bunnell to use at its discretion, without guaranteeing children’s programming there. Nor was she comfortable with leaving the building in its present, poor condition, down to its poorly insulated air conditioning system, which Revels described as throwing tax-payers’ money away. “If we’re going to stay a part of it we’re going to have to invest in it,” Revels said.
About an hour into the discussion, commissioners turned over the microphones to several members of the Carver Gym community–adults and children–who spoke in impassioned language, and sometimes gestures, about the meaning of the gym in their lives and, in one speaker’s words, the relative smallness of the amount of money in question to keep it open. “That is no money. That is no money,” she said.
Chris Borgmann challenged commissioners on several counts, refuting the notion of “unstructured” programming at Carver (where his wife volunteers and his children play). “To sit here and speak about structure at the gym, that’s an excuse to give people leverage” against maintaining the gym as it’s being run now, Borgmann said. “Our only desire is for the gym to remain as is.”
Toward the end of the meeting, Peterson reiterated his proposal to turn over the gym to Bunnell, over perhaps a longer phase-in period. Holland agreed. “I’m OK in regards to the proposal providing that we understand where this budget is going to go,” with details on where the county’s 75 percent contribution of Carver Gym funding would actually go. Abbott said he’d recommend continuing county support at current levels for at least three years. When it was Hanns’ turn to speak, he said: “Keep Carver Gym open, and find the money.”