Board meeting makes progress on plans for new gym

Fourteen empty black leather chairs surround a dark wood table in anticipation of the Athens Housing Authority’s Public Hearing and Board Meeting.

The public hearing begins at 4:15 p.m. in the Central Offices of the Athens Housing Authority on Rocksprings Street, and is one of only two the Authority holds a year.

One is to annually approve the small decals denoting Authority vehicles, and the other is to allow for comment on the Annual Agency Plan, according to Marilyn Appleby, Marketing and Communications Director for the AHA.

The regularly scheduled Board meeting follows the hearing. Board meetings are held every fourth Tuesday of the month at 4:30 p.m.

Board Commissioners trickle in and help themselves to the coffee and bottles of water on a table in the corner of the large room filled with natural light. Against one wall are more leather chairs available for any guests.

Becky Hartman, Administrative Services Director for the AHA, enters the room and sets her things down on the table.

“I was amazed everyone got here so early,” she said, “But then I remembered, we do have a public hearing today, and it is over my stuff.”

“Yep, you’re the guest of honor,” said James C. Smith, the Vice Chair.

In accordance with the agenda, after the approval of the minutes, Hartman debriefs the group on the Five Year and Annual Agency Plans.

“The documents have been available for public comments for 45 days and to the best of my knowledge there have been no comments and no challenges,” she said. “My belief is this is because our Resident Advisory Board helped draft the document, all issues were addressed at that time.”

As there were no residents present to make comments, the public hearing was open, then closed, in two minutes.

The Board meeting commenced with an audit of the Athens Housing Authority.

Next on the agenda is David Linder’s talk about the financing documents for the plans to build a new Boys and Girls club gym. Linder moved from the side of the room the to main table in order to individually discuss important articles in the document and explain the progress.

The new gym will be part of a larger effort to renovate the H.T. Edwards building into another location for the Boys and Girls club of Athens.

Currently the Athens Housing Authority provides non-federal funding to the Jack R. Wells Boys and Girls center, but the facility is outdated according to Appleby. There is one main room, and some rooms on the side, but the building is small.

“In the probably 15 years of use, the Boys and Girls Club have just outgrown it,” she said. “They had probably outgrown it the minute they moved in.”

The Jack R. Wells center is in the middle of a neighborhood, and in Appleby’s opinion, this is problematic.

“Only neighborhood kids use the space,” she said, “With the exception of summer programs, we just don’t see many kids from other areas.”

The H.T. Edwards building is in a central location that should make it more accessible to more people. It will also have many of the same features as the existing, larger Fourth Street Boys and Girls Club. This will include a newly refurbished gym, offices, art space, and potentially a music lab.

The financing has been in the works for close to a year according to Appleby, the complications being caused by the partnership between four entities, local government, the school system, the Boys and Girls Club, and the Athens Housing Authority.

S.P.O.L.S.T money from the government, Boys and Girls Club fundraising, and money from the Athens Housing Authority is all being used to finance the project, and the school system owns the H.T. Edwards building.

“This is a very, very unique project,” J. Richard Parker II, the Executive Director said. “I can’t think of another example of four such high profile groups coming together to provide a service that is going to have this kind of long term benefits. None of us could have accomplished it on our own.”

Parker II guesses that building plans should be ready in 60-90 days, and construction should begin this summer.

An event is tentatively planned for April 22 to celebrate the partnership. Parker II would like the media to be there and to hand the Boys and Girls Club a giant check. The event would be held later in the day so children involved in the Boys and Girls Club could be present as well as the Board members from all the partners.

After this informal discussion, the Board meeting resumed, covered more ordinary business, and adjourned at approximately 6:45 p.m.

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