It took more than half a year, but the Flagler County School Board Tuesday evening approved the new agreement that will revamp and control the operation of the Carver Center, or Carver Gym, in Bunnell, in cooperation with Flagler County, the City of Bunnell, the Sheriff’s Office and its Police Athletic League. PAL will have a much larger role running activities at the center.
The board cleared the final hurdle when Board member Cheryl Massaro, who had previously run the Carver Center, sought to ensure that the fee structure for certain activities at the center would be established collaboratively between the county and the school district, rather than imposed by the county. The county pays the majority of the costs of running Carver Center, with the district, the Sheriff and Bunnell each paying $10,000. The county will have the final say. “The county is reserving its right to set the fee schedule for it,” Superintendent LaShakia Moore said.
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The agreement the board approved on a 5-0 vote did not include any fee structures. That’s to come, and that’s making some Center advocates nervous.
Massaro wanted to ensure that the facility’s activity fees would not be an obstacle to participation by residents. That’s also been a recurring fear among residents and advocates of the center, which is located in predominantly Black South Bunnell, and where it stands both as a landmark in its own right–the last remaining structure of what used to be George Washington Carver High School–and as South Bunnell’s only community center and civic building of note.
“Because they can price out the community’s use, and that’s going to be problematic for the community,” Massaro had said during an afternoon workshop, before the wording was refined. (The board met three times on Tuesday.) “It has to remain affordable. And that’s what we had done is create an affordable scale and the school board had approved that.”
PAL, she said, will be using the facility from 6 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with its own fees, and with 30 to 50 children a night: the numbers alone suggest that participation is obviously not an issue. But the question is whether those participating include the traditional users of the center, as opposed to PAL’s own ranks. PAL’s scheduling also restricts open use of the facility by community members to just one night.
Several residents who addressed the board on Tuesday questioned whether access to the gym would be restricted, and some asked for the agreement to be tabled. “Is it true that it’s been mentioned that the kids will no longer be able to have access to the gym?” Francina Huck asked board members. “And also if they have access to the gym, will there be fees? That’s the only thing that really bothers me because that gym has been there, it’s a staple in the community. It’s been there for years.” It’s the only place or South Bunnell kids to go, she said. “Because if you read the room like I’m reading the room, you look out here, there are people who are concerned.”
Bonita Robinson, a former Bunnell city commissioner, runs the center currently, on the School Board’s payroll. She had previously controlled the fee schedule, and organized fee-generating events there, including family and cultural festivals and political forums. “I would like to make sure that we don’t handcuff her ability to set fees in order to grow the center and to maintain its success,” one resident told the board. “I would like to see us keep community in the carver community center.”
But as he has repeatedly before, Flagler County Sheriff’s Chief Dave Williams again attempted to set the record straight. “Unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation going on,” he said. “One of the things that was brought up is money and how they’re going to lose money because of the sheriff’s office taking additional hours away from programs.” He said that couldn’t be, given the additional $10,000 contributed by the Sheriff’s Office alone, that was not contributed previously.
“In addition, we’re proposing to extend the hours,” Williams said. “Currently, the facility closes at 6 p.m. We’re proposing to extend those hours to 8 p.m. to offer the community more time at the facility.” However, the PAL programs will be running from 6 to 8 p.m. Williams again asserted what he has asserted before: “There will be scholarship, no child will be turned away from any program there. Sheriff Staly specifically wanted it to be in the community where the children have easy access.” The agreement spells that out explicitly.
For all the county’s and PAL’s role, it remains that the school district will still be responsible for the overall management of the facility, its day to day operations, and scheduling, Conklin said. The document has gone through so many versions that it’s possible some residents got stuck on previous versions that are no longer in the text, she said. In the end, with the addition of a few clarifying words that underscore the school district’s overall role at the center, board members agreed not to delay approval further, and approved the document. It now returns to the County Commission and Bunnell government for their ratification.Carver Center ILA School Board rev 1-24-2024 Clean