Senior Citizens Center
Butts County will hold a Grand Opening ceremony today with an open house to follow, beginning at noon in its new location on Ernest Biles Drive. The new center, formerly the home of the Jackson-Butts County Child Development Center, will now house all senior citizen programs in a much larger and improved space but will still be a part of the Recreation Department campus. The program had previously been housed in the Ernest Biles Youth Center located adjacent to the new location. Over the years, growth in both recreation and senior programs had created a severe shortage of space in the Youth Center. Programs for the Senior Citizens had been largely confined to one common room and a couple of small offices since the Youth Center opened in the mid 1990’s.
In late June, the Board of Directors of the Child Development Center notified the County Administrator that they had made the decision not to reopen the center in the Fall of 2012 due to declining enrollment and cuts made to their programs by the State. The building occupied by the Child Development Center was constructed in the 1990’s with funds obtained from grants but has always been owned and maintained by the County. “While we were sad to lose the Child Development Center and what they brought to the community, this did solve a twofold problem we have been faced with for some time” said County Administrator Michael Brewer. “Our senior citizens were completely out of room in the Youth Center and our Recreation Department staff was using office space for storage more often than not. This opportunity will provide the senior citizens with a lot more space and hopefully will attract new participants to the programs they will now be able to offer. It will also help Leisure Services Director Jim Herbert and his staff to make better use of the Youth Center with the additional space this will free up there” he added.
The repurposed facility, located to the left of the tennis courts, has additional space for classrooms where educational programs of value to seniors can be held, as well as a computer room where seniors can check email and become familiar with computers and how they work. The former playground will be incorporated into the recreation park as an additional playground for smaller children.
Work to convert the center to its new purpose was handled primary by the Butts County Building Department with assistance from the Recreation Department Maintenance Division and inmates from the State of Georgia Department of Corrections.
Butts County invites the public to attend the grand opening and to tour the facility. A ceremony of dedication will be held during the open house, with refreshments and tours provided by the Leisure Services Department. These will continue on until 2:00 PM.
Butts County officials learned recently that the Jackson-Butts County Child Development Center will close its doors in the weeks ahead. In a letter to the County, Ida Ruth Taylor, the Board Chair of the Jackson-Butts County Child Development Foundation stated “It appears that after 36 years of operation, the Jackson-Butts County Child Development Center has served its purpose”, going on to say that “On June 23, 2012, the board voted unanimously that it is no longer feasible to operate the center and therefore the center will no longer be in business”.
Citing financial difficulties experienced by many of their families due to the economy, enrollment dropped drastically this year, along with a severe cutback in State funding. Recently, they received another setback when the State notified them they would also be cutting out Pre-K funding for the upcoming school year, which only exacerbated the problems. Faced with declining enrollment and diminished funding, closing was the only option left to the staff.
Butts County had committed to fund their portion of the program at the same level as last year but removed this appropriation from the FY2013 budget after being notified of the Board of Director’s decision. “We will assist them in whatever manner is feasible with the close out process” Interim County Administrator Michael Brewer stated. “They have been honorable stewards of the public trust for well over three decades but more importantly, they have been stewards of the trust bestowed on them by countless parents who have entrusted their children to the care of these committed individuals”.
Closing out 36 years of memories doesn’t just happen overnight however. There are files, records and inventory that must be sorted, packed and in some cases, stored. Commissioners Robert Henderson and Keith Douglas, as well as Community Development Director Douglas Manning and Leisure Services Director Jim Herbert have been working with the Child Development Center staff to assist with the close out process. The facility that housed the Child Development Center was built in the late 1990’s and was funded by a grant obtained by Butts County for that purpose. Since the facility is owned and maintained by the County, it will be redeployed in the months ahead.
In a June 25th memo to the Board of Commissioners, Brewer wrote, “It occurred to me than an excellent use for this facility would be to repurpose it to serve as a new Butts County Senior Citizens Center. This would give our senior citizens a newer and more expanded home in a building that is already equipped to meet many of their needs. It has the commercial kitchen to support the Meals on Wheels program which has doubled in recent years and would keep them within the Recreation Department’s compound but away from the high [vehicular] traffic area they are currently in”.
Commission Vice Chairman Keith Douglas, who served in an advisory capacity to the Child Development Center board for some years, stated “This building already has a history of serving the community’s children but since it is no longer feasible to do that, it can still have a meaningful impact in a different way, serving the elders in our community. They are the ones who raised us and helped to get us where we are today and we owe them something by providing them with adequate space to meet, socialize and enjoy structured programs and activities”. Other commissioners have also expressed support for the needs of the seniors.
Commissioner Gator Hodges added “We have wanted to be able to do more for our senior citizens for some time now but like everything else, the needs are always greater than the resources available. I am glad that we will be able to do something for them now and even though it is sad that the Child Development Center had to close, I would like to think that this will in some way reflect the spirit of service to the community that they represented”.
The Senior Citizens Center has been housed in the Earnest Biles Youth Center building since its construction in 1996 but the program only recently came fully under the direction of the Leisure Services Department. Director Jim Herbert has noted in the past the need for additional space for both the seniors and the offices of the department. The move to the new facility will give senior citizens much more room plus the flexibility to expand programming in the future while at the same time freeing up some much-needed space in the youth center building.
Once the facility has been readied for its new mission, a grand opening ceremony will be held by the Board of Commissioners for the public to come and view the facility. With expanded room, it is hoped that more seniors will come out and join in the activities available. For more information about programs and needs, call the Butts County Leisure Services Department-Senior Citizens Center at 770-775-8238.