By Joel Hall
A small crowd of local officials and community representatives filed into the Gerald Matthews Sports Complex on Tuesday morning to usher in the latest county recreation center.
The groundbreaking for the center, to be located in Lovejoy, is the fourth to be built using funds from the 2003 Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST). It brings the county one step closer to a goal of achieving six new recreation centers.
The ceremony was brief, as temperatures soared to nearly 90 degrees before noon. Elected officials, department heads, and others expressed delight the center is finally coming into fruition.
"It's definitely an exciting feeling," said District 3 Commissioner Wole Ralph. "The community has wanted this for a long time. I'm excited about this because it allows us to connect the people in a real way. This gives people in the southern part of the county recreational opportunities they never had before."
Ralph said the center is expected to open within the next 10 to 12 months.
The recreation center -- the second SPLOST-funded recreation center to be built in Ralph's district -- will offer amenities not seen at the Carl Rhodenizer, Virginia Gray, and Jim Huie recreation centers, according to Ralph. While lacking a swimming pool, the Gerald Matthews Sports Complex will have a computer lab, a large play area for child development activities, and vocational training.
Detrick Stanford, director of the Clayton County Parks and Recreation Department, said many of the county's centers lack amenities for small children and the new one in Lovejoy will be "a destination spot for all children.
"This will make sure that when people bring their younger children, there will be activities in which they can participate," said Stanford. He said it will be the home of a "Smart Start" program, which focuses on motor skill development, and in the coming months, it will host a series of town hall meetings so officials can learn what other programs residents want to see at the center.
"At a time when we have a serious economic crisis in our country, and our county, I am grateful to see that we can raise the money to build these facilities that are needed for our quality of life," said Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell. "I am very glad that [Commissioner] Ralph selected a site that we didn't have to purchase. That will give us greater value."
Lovejoy Post 1 Councilman Tommy Green said the center will provide the City of Lovejoy with much-needed services. "We've been facing challenges trying to provide [recreational opportunities] for our citizens," said Green. "This is going to provide much-need relief. We really think that this will keep our community together and keep people here."