Vision remains for N’hamp. Center

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 12, 2007

JACKSON – The empty lot that sits across from the J.W. Faison building may not look like much to those who pass by it on Highway 305, but for the Northampton County Board of Commissioners it holds potential in the form of a Cultural and Wellness Center.

At last Tuesday’s Northampton County Board of Commissioners’ meeting, the commissioners approved Architect Surapon Sujjavanich’s revision of the center, which included several cut backs to the project that the commissioners were particularly concerned about.

“Recreational activities and facilities has always been a need for our citizens,” said County Manager Wayne Jenkins.

In 2003, the Northampton County Commissioners acted on the need for recreation after a study of the county was done by East Carolina University.

“It was a vision put forth by the commissioners,” said Chairwoman Virginia Spruill (D-2nd) about the Cultural and Wellness Center.

The funding for the project was estimated to be $7million to $8 million. Knowing the money for funding the center would be an issue the commissioners sought out loan grants, a trust fund and filed the project to be declared non-profit so donations for the construction could be accepted.

In 2006 the land was purchased for the 40-acre center, which would comprise of several sports fields and courts and a paved walking trail on the grounds. The center would hold a 480 seat auditorium, offices for the Office on Aging and the Recreation Department as well as a walk in cooler. Phase two of the project would allow additional health and physical equipment to be added.

The revised plan of the project cut back on amenities on the outside of the complex and the inside. The five ball fields that were originally planned would be cut down to four. The tennis courts went from six courts to two. The plan also cut outdoor restrooms, a concession stand and pavement for the walking trail.

Inside the center suffered the deletion of six offices and counter tops.

“So, basically we have a shell.” said Spruill addressing Sujjavanich at the commissioners’ meeting. “I know we have a limited amount of money. We want to accommodate the people that will be there.”

Sujjavanich and Jenkins advised the commissioners that what was deleted from the plans could always be added later.

“We’re going to have the architect look at it,” said Spruill about the cut backs.

Despite the cut backs on the project, the supporters for the center stand firmly behind it.

“We should be able to serve the county more as a whole,” said Recreation Director James Roberts about the center being located in Jackson.

Roberts has seen a need for the center in his programs as well as the entire county.

As of now, Roberts estimated that there are 200 children ranging from ages four to 16 in each of the programs, which are being held in school facilities.

“With the ball fields it’s easier to attract people,” said Roberts.

Roberts mentioned at the county commissioners meeting that the more recreational fields the center had, the more athletic tournaments it could hold.

Health Director Sue Gay of the Northampton County Health Department said the center will help the citizens of Northampton County.

“There is a strong capacity the center will benefit our citizens,” said Gay. “The possibility (is there) to improve the health of our citizens.”

Gay went on to mention that it was up to the citizens to take the initiative to use the facilities.

Currently, the Health Department has two staff members on a committee that are seeking possible programs that deal with health problems associated with obesity.

Even though the Northampton County Cultural and Wellness Center has hit a few bumps, the project is still on its way.

“At least the citizens can see something is going up,” said Roberts.