Council Pursues New Rec Center Site

RIDGEWAY – With only two members of the public speaking for the record on the pros and cons of locating a proposed County recreation facility in the heart of Ridgeway, Town Council forged ahead at a special called meeting Monday night on the prospect of bringing the facility into the town limits.

Although Ridgeway resident Cal Harrison did not emphatically declare his support for locating the facility in town, he was clear on his feelings about the initially proposed site on Highway 21 S., across from Smallwood Road, where the County has recently posted a sign announcing its intentions to build.

“When I first saw the sign go up right next to the recycling center, to me it didn’t seem like the appropriate place,” Harrison told Council. “To me it doesn’t send the right message about recreation or the community at that location.”

Councilman Russ Brown originally brought the issue before Council at their Dec. 11 meeting, not long after he said he had seen the sign go up on Highway 21 S. At that same meeting, Brown also said he had learned from outgoing District 1 County Councilman Dwayne Perry that the County had initially inquired about constructing the facility at the corner of Church and Means streets, where Ridgeway already has a baseball/softball field, but that Mayor Charlene Herring had rejected the idea without consulting Council.

The property at Church and Means streets, Harrison said Monday, “could be used for something really special for the town that would draw people into the town,” even, he added, if the property were left as green space.

Herring said on Dec. 11 that the Town’s strategic plan had other designs for the Church and Means streets site, but Council pressed the issue and agreed last month to revisit the proposal in a meeting with County representatives. Monday night, only Dan Ruff, who was then still a week away from being sworn in as the new District 1 County Councilman, made an appearance on behalf of the County. Perry, Herring said Monday night, was ill, and Brown said County Administrator Milton Pope had suggested to him that the best way to proceed would be for Ridgeway to put together an alternative proposal and bring it directly to the County.

Brown began advocating for the Church and Means street site last month, and Monday night was no different. But Ridgeway resident Cecil Dupree said Monday that the ball field already in use at that location has created a traffic problem as it is, a problem he said that would only be exacerbated by the addition of a recreation facility.

“I’ve got a little bit of concern about adding anything at that junction down on that end,” Dupree said. “During ball season there’s quite a bit of traffic up there. Children are playing in the street. It’s not safe, really, for that.”

Dupree also said the walking trail, which Brown has touted as an attraction that, along with the ball field and sidewalks, would make a perfect match for a full-blown recreation facility, was under-used and not well maintained. And while Brown has asserted that an in-town facility would be convenient for people to walk to, Dupree disagreed.

“The walking trail,” Dupree said, “I doubt there are very many in this room that have used it. No one walks to that facility now. Everybody drives. That’s what has created the problems. Nobody is going to walk down there. We don’t have that many young children in Ridgeway. So it’s not a place for children. It might be a place for a few individual adults that live in the area.”

When Dupree asked who would maintain the facility, Brown, referring to the County’s plan, said that the County had budgeted $17,000 a year for maintenance and $28,000 a year for staffing. Brown offered a copy of the plan to those in attendance, and while Harrison accepted a copy, Dupree politely declined.

“I grew up in Fairfield County,” Brown said, advocating for the change in location. “A lot of people I grew up with moved away and didn’t come back. I think one thing a lot of people say is there’s not a whole lot for young people to do here. If you give them something and offer them something it may, in the long run, help change that stigma that some people have about the county and the different areas of the county.”

“I just don’t see it,” Dupree said. “There’s not that many people, even the ones that use the walking trail, that walk to the trail. They drive down there. So if they drive here or drive out there to (Highway) 21, it doesn’t make a lot of difference, except for the people that live there.”

Herring said the facility was intended to serve all of District 1, not only the town of Ridgeway. Having the facility in the middle of town may or may not be the most central location to serve the entire district, she said. Councilman Donald Prioleau, however, said a Ridgeway location was ideal.

“I know this facility would work better in downtown Ridgeway,” he said. “Why? Where do we vote at? Downtown Ridgeway. Where do we bank at? Downtown Ridgeway. Where do we shop at? Downtown Ridgeway.”

Brown also suggested building the facility on the end of the property where Town Hall was once located, which Prioleau said would alleviate traffic problems at the ball field.

Herring said during the Dec. 11 meeting that the Town has considered adding a maintenance shed on the property, and Monday night she emphasized the Town’s need for additional storage. But Prioleau said the best place for storage would be at the Town’s wastewater plant, which Councilman Doug Porter agreed was a possibility.

Porter said having the facility in town “would be a real asset for the community. If we can work it in.”

Councilman Heath Cookendorfer also came out in favor of locating the facility downtown, creating a solid bloc on Council for the site at Church and Means streets.

“I would love to see it downtown,” Cookendorfer said. “I think it could become a beacon that can enhance Ridgeway.”

Ruff suggested that Council should present their alternative plan in writing to Pope and include their various options, such as exchanging a basketball court for a playground. Cookendorfer placed a motion on the floor to do so at Council’s Jan. 8 meeting (after The Voice went to press), hopefully in time to have it placed on County Council’s Jan. 12 agenda, he said. Prioleau offered a second and the motion passed without dissent.