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Community center in YMCA building?

The city plans to save the historic building’s façade.

News Staff Writer

The former Atmore Area YMCA building that has remained vacant, shuttered and mold-ridden since the organization ceased operations more than two years ago, might have a bright future.
Mayor Jim Staff told city council members during a Monday, April 12, workshop that he has been working on a plan to utilize the historic building, which once served as the city high school, or at least part of it.
“We’ve been talking about a citywide recreational thing, and this is what we’ve come up with so far. I understand that I have to call it a community center,” he said before turning the floor over to Chris Walker, a former council member and an officer of United Bank.
Walker said the USDA funding is available, but not specifically for a recreational facility.
“This funding source is the same as the one for the sanitation building, but it’s through the USDA, so it does not fund recreational programs” he told the council before explaining one option for securing such funds. “What a lot of municipalities have been doing, is basically calling such a facility a community center. You can have a gym, but the other space has to be for things like classrooms for GED, wedding receptions, and so on. The square footage of the gym has to be smaller than the other combined area to be eligible.”
Walker offered several other possible financing solutions, including Federal Emergency Management Agency grants and historical grants. He said the financing could be stretched over 35 years, with a fixed interest rate of “somewhere in the 2.75 percent to 2.5 percent range” and no commitment of the property as collateral.
“It’s the most centrally located site in town for a community center, so you’re halfway there already,” he said.
The mayor said he and city engineers had walked through the building earlier Monday. The consensus, he said, was that the façade and the front rooms of the structure could most likely be saved.
The two wings added several years ago would have to be razed, as would the auditorium, which has a sunken foundation and could not be saved in a cost-effective manner.
Staff said he had received assurances from county school officials that the school system would donate the land adjacent to the building on which the local soccer program’s games are played.
“It could be a huge complex,” the mayor said.
District 3’s Eunice Johnson suggested that space could be provided for a mental health program, and District 2’s Jerome Webster said such a center would “help keep kids off the streets.”