COVINGTON — Newton County appears to still be on track to partner with the Boys & Girls Club of Newton County for a westside youth facility after an effort to divert funds away from construction of a club facility failed.
Newton County Commission Chairman Marcello Banes broke a tie vote on Feb. 16 that would have designated $495,427 in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for a youth center at Fairview Community Park inside Fairview Estates subdivision. District 3 Commissioner Alana Sanders had sought to direct the funds to a youth center in Fairview Park rather than go forward with a plan for construction of a Boys & Girls Club facility. The club currently operates out of a temporary building on Brown Bridge Road.
Newton County has been working with the Boys & Girls Club for several years to find a permanent location for the club on the west side, under the general expectation that the SPLOST funds would be used to construct a building that the club would then lease from the county. The club and the county have not yet formalized their agreement.
However, Sanders, who took office Jan. 1, said she supported the county establishing its own youth program at Fairview Estates. Sanders said that, based on input she has gathered from the community, the Boys & Girls Club does not provide the type of programming citizens want.
Sanders said the Boys & Girls Club appeals more to Generation X and Baby Boomers, “but when you are dealing with Generation Y and Generation Z, which is our technology generation, then we have to do more.”
“The programs are antiquated; it has nothing to do with not wanting a Boys & Girls Club in the community,” Sanders added.
Sanders objected to providing funding to an organization over which the county would have no programming control. She also noted that the Boys & Girls Club is a national program that has access to large corporate donations.
District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards expressed concern about changing plans for use of the funds earmarked for a youth facility.
“I don’t know that it is documented anywhere, but it was sold to the public as a partnership between the Boys & Girls Club and the county,” he said.
County Manager Lloyd Kerr said the county had informally committed to construct a “shell of a building” and that the Boys & Girls Club had committed to completing the interior of the building, providing programming, and paying for maintenance and operation of the facility.
“The idea was they would be there operating it and providing the programming as long as the county was satisfied they were meeting the needs of the community,” Kerr said.
Kerr said the county has been in discussions with the Newton County School System for a potential land swap that would provide a location for the club in the vicinity of Jack Neely and Kirkland Roads — making it accessible to several schools in the area. Kerr said it is also possible that the club could be built in Fairview Park.
District 5 Commissioner Ronnie Cowan reminded the board that the late Superior Court Judge Horace Johnson Jr. had a vision for a Boys & Girls Club on the west side of the county.
“I think we need to continue on with the Boys & Girls Club as it is structured right now, because I don’t want to do anything that is a disservice to his legacy … “ said Cowan.
Sanders made a motion to use the $495,427 in SPLOST funds for a youth outreach center at Fairview Community Park. District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson seconded the motion.
When it came time to vote, Edwards and Cowan opposed; District 2 Commissioner Demond Mason struggled with his decision and ultimately abstained, leaving the vote tied.
Chairman Banes noted that he grew up in the Boys & Girls Club.
“I was hoping I wasn’t going to have to vote tonight because I am definitely going to vote for the Boys & Girls Club,” he said. “I think there is still a solution here, because the fact of the matter is in less than 60 days we are going to come back and start talking about building a project for District 4, District 3 and District 2, so I think there’s a way that everybody will be happy,” he said, referring to projects that commissioners want to bond in their districts. “I think everybody will get what they are looking for.”