The city of New Bern has about $8 million at its disposal to spend on the Stanley White Recreation Center, which has sat unused and moldering while awaiting decisions on its fate since it was flooded during Hurricane Florence in September 2018.
Some city leaders say the existing facility is too vulnerable to flooding. Rebuilding it would be putting good money after bad. In fact, the city had just put $1 million into the facility just before Hurricane Florence.
To move things forward, the city spent about $440,000 to purchase several lots between Broad Street, Gaston Boulevard, Third Avenue, and Elm Street.
Mayor Dana Outlaw and Alderman Jeff Odham have led this effort, hoping to build a new recreation center facing Broad Street, or at least with better access off Broad Street, that would be out of the flood plain and have easier access to users from outside the Duffyfield Community.
That’s a sticking point for black residents in New Bern who see Stanley White as more than a gymnasium. It is a community center for the predominately black neighborhoods that surround it.
Proponents of moving the building (and making it much larger and versatile) say it is virtually impossible to rebuild it in place, saying it will cost the city $700,000 a year in flood insurance, that the facility won’t be available as an evacuation center, and that because it would have to be built on stilts (pilings, actually), there would have to be a long stairway to the entrance and an even longer handicap ramp.
That’s what happens when you paint yourself into a verbal corner, then build arguments to support it while avoiding any possible options.
I have another idea.
Putting a rebuilt center on pilings has a lot of disadvantages, but it has one advantage in supporting Outlaw/Odham’s plan: because the pilings are part of the structure, it will remain subject to flooding.
They say it would be expensive to use earth to raise the foundation, adding that including the parking lot in the raised foundation would be cost-prohibitive.
But raising the foundation with earth does something else: because it is not part of the structure but actually raises the building’s elevation, it puts the facility outside the flood zone and would negate the need for flood insurance.
Including the parking lot in the raised elevation (something much easier to do because it is just a parking lot and not a building) would put the entrance at ground level, negating the need for long steps and a handicap ramp.
Rainwater runoff from this raised elevation can drain into a retention pond created within the boundary of Henderson Park. This retention pond can be designed and landscaped to become an amenity, with a walking trail around it along with benches, chess tables, decorative lighting, etc.
The remainder of Henderson Park would be shifted from two soggy ball fields, to a leisure area of covered and uncovered picnic areas with grills, benches, grassy fields, restrooms, and a concession stand.
The acreage recently acquired by the city facing Broad Street can become an active recreation area, such as an outdoor basketball arena, parking, and a leased restaurant facility.
The entire campus can be well suited for seasonal and annual events and festivals.
Let me know what you think, and if you have other ideas.