Commission to pick a builder for centers

By Justin Boron

Although it isn't the pace demanded by much of the community, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners is making headway on the recreation centers planned in the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax initiative.

A builder for two of the centers is set to be considered at today's 9 a.m. commission meeting at 112 Smith St., Jonesboro. Winter Construction of Atlanta was recommended to build the Garden Walk center and one other center, guaranteeing a price under $12.6 million. Garden Walk will cost about $6.5 million to build.

Concern about the recreation centers' timeline for completion has escalated with growing violence surrounding young people in the county.

The commission also faced a public backlash when county officials hinted it couldn't complete all six of the centers promised in campaign literature for the SPLOST tax initiative.

How many will be completed and to what degree is still unclear.

But County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell has said the legislation for the initiative did not specify the number of centers to be built. He also outlined a plan identifying six centers. But two are existing projects, the natatorium and senior center.

County Commissioner Wole Ralph has said the board should hold true to what was promised to supporters of the SPLOST.

But he hasn't received much support from others on the board.

His April 5 proposal to add to the commission meeting agenda an item that would allocate $25 million for the centers failed for lack of a second.

Dexter Matthews, the president for the Clayton County Branch of the NAACP, cautioned against praising progress that should have come last year.

"We don't want them to break ground and take two years to build it," he said.

Matthews was one of the earliest critics of the commission for prioritizing SPLOST road projects ahead of the recreation centers. He also said he will not back away from the issue until six new youth centers are complete.

Road conditions are fine and shouldn't be the priority, he said.

"We have kids dying here everyday, and we're just trying to do something that really does help."