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.