Town Eyes New Rec Site

The Ridgeway Arch, as envisioned by former Councilman and Ridgeway attorney Robert Hartman. Council is considering the future of the Arch, as well as the possibility of a new recreation facility nearby. (Painting/Robert Hartman)

Council Out of the Loop on Ridgeway Plan

RIDGEWAY – As County Council forges ahead with its comprehensive recreation plan that will spend as much as $500,000 in each of the county’s seven districts, Town Council reacted with some surprise at their Dec. 11 meeting to the County’s choice of location for the District 1 recreation facilities.

The County has recently erected a sign near one of their recycling centers just outside the Ridgeway town limits, on Highway 21 S. across from Smallwood Road, announcing the future site of a community center, as well as an outdoor basketball court. But Town Council last week said they had been left largely out of the loop on the decision and suggested an alternative site in town.

“When the sign went up by the recycling center, I got a lot of people who called and asked me why the County was putting a community center down the road where nobody can get to it and people fly by there,” Councilman Russ Brown told Council. “At the time I didn’t really keep up with what County Council was doing.”

But since then, Brown said, he had learned that District 1 County Councilman Dwayne Perry initially contacted Ridgeway Mayor Charlene Herring to inquire about constructing the facility in town at the corner of Church and Means streets, where Ridgeway already has a baseball/softball field. But Herring, Brown said, had told Perry no.

“I told him there were already plans in the strategic plan, that the Arts on the Ridge committee wanted to put some other things there,” Herring said. “We had looked at adding another maintenance shed over there.”

The strategic plan, Brown said, was only a recommendation or suggestion, not something written in stone. Herring, on the other hand, pointed out that the strategic plan comes from input from the community.

“The community was not aware of this, or the potential of this going over there,” Brown said, “and you said no to him and told him why before (Council) even had a clue what they were doing.”

Brown said he had recently spoken with Perry and that the County could move the facility to the downtown location.

“We have 5 acres over here with the ball field,” Brown said. “This center is going to have a place for adults and children for exercise. You’re talking about having something centrally located in a town that has children and people looking for something to do other than go to Dollar General. And we already have a walking trail, we already have a ball field and we can lease (the land) to them for $1 a year and still retain ownership of it and put a nice attractive facility on it.”

Herring said she thought it was a good idea, but added that she had some concerns about who would maintain and monitor the facility.

“But you’re saying no before you explore it,” Brown said.

“No, I’m not saying no,” Herring said. “I’m saying it’s a good possibility, but I’m saying there are other things we probably needed to discuss with it. But we never got those details.”

Councilman Heath Cookendorfer told Council he would ask Perry, who attended his last meeting as District 1’s County Councilman Monday night, and Perry’s successor, Dan Ruff to come discuss options for the relocation of the site at a future Council meeting.

The proposed new site at the corner of Church and Means streets is also home to the Ridgeway Arch, all that remains of the old Ridgeway School and its auditorium. At Council’s Nov. 13 meeting, Robert Hartman, a Ridgeway attorney and former Town Councilman, told Council the arch was not structurally sound, nor was it “artistically finished.”

“It needs to be finished,” Hartman said. “The Town saved it to finish it. It wasn’t meant to be left like that.”

Hartman presented Council with a conceptual painting, which he had done himself, of how the arch might look once complete. In 2008, the auditorium suffered severe storm damage, for which the Town received an insurance payment of $478,185.

“We netted about $420,000 (after fees and expenses from the demolition of the auditorium),” Hartman told Council last month. “I don’t know how much is left now, but I would assume a good bit of it. Why not take some of that money and do an engineering study and get a price on what it would take to do this?”

But at last week’s meeting, Brown suggested a different strategy.

“Even though that money was from the building, I wouldn’t mind seeing if we can’t try to have some type of campaign to help raise some money and help support that expense,” Brown said. “Rather than just dip into a CD (Certificate of Deposit, in which the funds are held) it wouldn’t hurt to see if we can get people or ways to get people who want to contribute.”

Councilman Donald Prioleau said Council needed to appoint a committee to spearhead the project, while Councilman Doug Porter said the fundraising portion of the campaign should have a deadline, after which time the Town would take funds from the CD.

Council made no final decision on the project.