On the verge of closing just last summer, Carver Gym, South Bunnell’s only supervised playground and activities center for children, may survive yet again. But that survival still hinges on clearing several hurdles, including either reluctance by local governments to contribute much money to the effort or buck-passing.
When the Flagler County School Board meets on Tuesday, it will likely approve contributing $10,000 toward keeping the doors of Carver Gym in Bunnell open. The money doesn’t include computer equipment the board is contributing, or in-kind services, such as the GED classes it launched at the gym in order to establish a presence there.
Before Christmas, the Bunnell City Commission agreed to spend $5,000, including its in-kind contributions. That’s half what the county was looking for from Bunnell. The county is ready to budget at least $40,000, not including capital improvements it’s already made, such as new air conditioning and heating units and repainting the building. The remaining $60,000 it would take to keep the gym open permanently would have to be collected from a variety of sources, should they be willing to do their share: the Sheriff’s Office, the gym’s own emerging (but not yet official) non-profit fund-raising group of supporters, and grants.
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That funding coalition is the result of several months’ work by a county committee headed by Commissioner Brabara Revels, who seized the reins of the Carver Gym matter when—after the commission, with Revels’ support had itself directed its administration to end funding for the building—a public outcry compelled the commission to backtrack. Bunnell Vice Mayor Jenny Crain-Brady mishandled an attempt at finding a solution, and Carver’s own supporters proved better able to oppose closure than find a solution to the problem (other than asking for the county to continue budgeting the $120,000 a year it takes to keep Carver going). So with the commission agreeing to budget at least $90,000 this year, Revels stepped in and organized a task force responsible for lining up willing contributors.
Last month, with the county administration’s Heidi Petito doing most of the grunt work, commissioners had their first look at the Revels plan: a 20-page report (not including as many pages of appendices) outlining concrete options from the doable to the wishful, with a list of potential dollar contributors and a proposal to establish a governing board, a youth advisory council and a booster organization (by-laws included). The plan goes into such details as proposing hours of operations, membership in the gym (no one would be allowed to use it without an ID), the outline of a discipline policy for gym users (fighting? One-year loss of privileges at the gym), the type of programs that would be offered—including parenting classes and job preparation and training—and the level of staffing that would be required.
An actual wish lists for such things as televisions, bookshelves, an ID card and video surveillance system was included. So was the most updated list of physical improvements that have been accomplished, or that still need to be done. For example, the county bought six new AC units for $10,800, installed new fencing, re-painted office space and provided $1,100 in playground repairs, among other things. In all, the county funded $53,000 in improvements, a quarter of the needs.
The plan’s details, the result of numerous committee and subcommittee group work that included Revels and Superintendent Janet Valentine, leaves little room debate anymore over what can be done, and what people want done with the gym. The questions now shift back to where it’s always been hung up, the how: How to fund the needs sustainably.
Given the county and the school board’s commitments, the half-way mark is in sight. But the plan also proposed getting $15,000 from the Boys & Girls Club, even though the club abandoned the gym last September and made clear it was not interested in returning, because it felt unwelcome there. The plan also calls for the gym’s booster club to raise $20,000.
“That’s a big chunk of money to come up with, especially nowadays,” says Chris Borgman, a vocal proponent of keeping the gym open, but preferably at the county’s expense. “$20,000? I think we can do it of we can come up with some unique programs and unique fund-raising opportunities, but that’s still a lot of money, $20,000, I mean, come on.”
The Revels plan required Bunnell to put up $10,000, considering that the gym is in Bunnell, and its users are overwhelmingly Bunnell—and particularly South Bunnell—residents. The discussion that unfolded at the Bunnell City Commission, and the final result, was indicative of the hurdles still in the way of a permanent solution for Carver Gym.
“I hope that we can come up with the $10,000,” Crain-Brady, the vice mayor, said when the matter came up for discussion at a Bunnell City Commission meeting last month. “I see it absolutely appropriate that we’re at the table and for that commitment. That’s just me.”
But Crain-Brady’s good intentions have always been more generous than her actual commitments. Moments later, she joined Commissioner Elbert Tucker in criticizing the county for asking too much, and supporting Tucker’s proposal to cut Bunnell’s contribution in half.
“Mark Twain said that if you don’t read the paper, you’re uninformed. If you read the paper, you’re misinformed,” Tucker said, citing words Twain wrote in a newspaper. “And he really did say that, and those were his exact words, but you can’t let the paper—you have to separate the fact from the emotion, so don’t let your emotions overwhelm you with this thing because I don’t think we need to be giving $10,000. We’re the smallest budget of any entity in this line. We don’t own it. We can support it, be glad to mow the grass, paint the buildings, but $10,000 for our budget is a little rich.”
Tucker added: “It’s been said, I think it was the chairman of the the Flagler County Board of Commissioners was disappointed in Bunnell.”
“Who is the chairman now?” Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson asked.
“Mr. Peterson. Full of wit, just like Mark Twain,” Tucker said of Alan Peterson.
“As far as their annual allocation,” Crain-Brady said of the county, “their number has significantly dropped here, so maybe their number should go up and ours should go down, but I just—we need to stay at this and that gym has to stay open and in keeping all these entities involved.”
When Robinson suggested that Bunnell meet the county half way and put up $7,500, Tucker again objected. “I would suggest that we put forth $5,000 to include maintenance of the grounds, and the in-kind services would be included in the $5,000.” That’s what the commission agreed to in the end, with Crain-Brady adding that even the Bunnell Police Department’s twice-a-day patrolling in the Carver Gym area should be part of the city’s in-kind calculations, even if, county-owned though it is, the gym is in Bunnell proper, and it is the city’s responsibility, not the county’s, to keep it safe regardless.
For all the clarity of the Revels plan, Carver Gym is not out of the intensive care unit yet.