County makes it official: Howard Gym to be restored

  • Friday, May 30, 2014

The Georgetown County Council on Tuesday affirmed the decision of a council committee to restore the Howard Gymnasium, officially giving back to the West End community a youth basketball gym the county had earlier decided to close.

Contacted after the decision by the county council, Howard Gymnasium supporter Brandon Brown said, “I am thrilled. Though many thought all hope was lost, our community showed that we will not lay down when we are faced with obstacles.”

The final decision was a victory for Georgetown residents who had banded together to preserve the gym as a much-needed athletic outlet for youths. Residents also were concerned about the safety of their children if they had to walk a long distance across town to the Beck Center to play basketball.

The council Tuesday unanimously approved a motion by Councilwoman Lillie Jean Johnson that it accept the recommendation of its Health and Leisure Committee to include a gym within plans for a large multi-purpose room in the renovated Howard Center.

There was little discussion, with only Councilman Bob Anderson raising questions about when and why the gym was not included in the original $3 million Howard Center renovation plans.

Anderson, completing his first four-year term on the council and seeking re-election this year, said the plans predated his time on the council, and were the result of the county’s Visions II committees that in 2004 recommended projects for inclusion in the county’s long-term capital improvements plan. That plan was finalized in 2007.

“I am wondering how specific the guidelines were from the Vision committees,” Anderson asked County Administrator Sel Hemingway. “When did it become something other than a gym?”

Hemingway said there was input from two Visions committees – the parks and recreation committee and the conservation committee – but there weren’t detailed instructions from the committees other than for the county to simultaneously renovate the Howard Gym and the Howard Auditorium as two separate projects. “There was no blueprint, so to speak,” Hemingway said. “As time went by, we began to explore the possibilities in renovating the gym and the auditorium.”

Those plans, as described by Parks and Community Services Director Beth Goodale at the council committee meeting last week, included a facility that would provide the community with a “vibrant hub in which programs and events of all kinds may be held.” The plans, however, did not include any athletic programs. Instead, the county has shifted youth basketball to the Beck Recreation Center, which is more than a mile from the Howard Center.

Now, based on the council’s decision, Hemingway said the county will redesign the multi-purpose room at the Howard Center as a “hybrid” facility that can be used for a variety of activities, including basketball, with partitioning of the room while using the same space. He said the county is still developing a cost estimate for the redesign.

The action on the gym was not a specific agenda item, but was contained within council committee reports as part of the “Health, Education & Leisure Committee Report.”

Community member Brandon Brown said, “I didn’t know anything about it. Normally, we get a call, but we didn’t hear anything.”

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