Friday, August 22, 2014
Georgetown youth will have a full court basketball gym at the renovated Howard facility, but organized basketball teams won’t be able to play there, a blow to West End community efforts to preserve organized basketball and other team sports at the facility.
Specific plans for the renovation of the Howard facility, including a gymnasium with a full-size basketball court, auditorium and multipurpose rooms, were unveiled to the public by Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway at a Tuesday, Aug. 19 meeting of the Georgetown County Council Health and Leisure Committee.
What was not disclosed at the meeting was a Georgetown County Parks and Recreation Department plan to limit play at the new gymnasium – and exclude all team sports.
Hemingway reported on Tuesday that the renovated gym would be outfitted with bleachers that would accommodate approximately 90 people. His statement caused audible concern among the crowd.
“Ninety? That is nowhere near enough seats. They need to put more seating than that back in there,” someone in the crowd of about 35 people responded.
West End residents, both adults and youth, have been looking forward to returning to the Howard gym for basketball games, stating there is limited space and limited playing time at the Beck facility.
In particular, they have fought hard to retain the Howard gymnasium for organized basketball, which they see as a vital element in the community.
The residents rose up in protest in May against the county’s original plans for renovation of the Howard facility that excluded a basketball court.
Under pressure from the community, the county council unanimously agreed to include a basketball court in design plans, and community members had expected basketball team events would resume at the Howard facility.
They also were under the impression that there would be seating adequate to accommodate all sporting events, including county and statewide tournaments.
The crowd began to stir again Tuesday night when Hemingway began explaining the renovations to the auditorium at Howard.
“The auditorium will be state of the art,” Hemingway said, “and will seat 850 people.” Hemingway’s statement stirred immediate response from the crowd.
“How come so many seats in the auditorium and so few in the gymnasium?” questioned someone in the crowd, at which point Hemingway opened up the meeting to comments and questions from the citizens present for the meeting.
When contacted by The Times on Aug. 20 for her response to the citizens’ concerns, Parks and Recreation Director Beth Goodale disclosed, “There is not really a need for more seating, because team sports, including volleyball and basketball, and including Team D.E.F.F. activities, will not be relocated to the new Howard gymnasium. Those sports are going to stay at the Beck Recreation Facility.”
Goodale went on to comment, “Last night Mr. McInnis (volleyball coach Ronald McInnis) wanted to make sure that the lines on the gymnasium would include those for volleyball, and that is going to happen.
“The gym floor will look just like the gym floor at the Waccamaw Regional Recreation Center in Pawleys Island.
“However, I am not moving volleyball down to the Howard gymnasium. We have worked hard to establish the program here at Beck, and that is where it will stay.”
When asked how she was planning on accommodating parking for a filled-to-capacity 850-person auditorium, Goodale replied, “I’m not sure, but they can probably do what they do in other downtown areas, because the Howard Center is technically in the downtown. People can post signs in their yards and maybe have people pay them to park like they do in Charleston and other downtowns.”
When asked to confirm she was suggesting that auditorium patrons park in yards of West End residents, Goodale responded, “Sure, why not? They do that in many cities. I don’t see a problem with it. Why not do it in Georgetown?”
Goodale’s disclosure that organized basketball and other team sports would not be allowed at the renovated Howard facility prompted outrage from one community member actively involved in preserving Howard for team sports, especially the Team D.E.F.F. program that practiced and hosted tournaments at the Howard gym. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” Georgetown businessman Everett Carolina said Aug. 20, after learning of Goodale’s disclosure.
“No one said anything about that last night [at the Aug. 19 meeting]. How could we have come this far and have something like this happen? How could those kinds of details be left out of last night’s meeting?”
Carolina was incensed at the idea of people parking in the yards of the West End residents and at the disclosure of Team D.E.F.F. not returning to the Howard gymnasium.
Goodale explained Wednesday that the Beck facility is considered Georgetown’s regional recreation center, and it is where all team sports in Georgetown take place.
She added, “When the Howard facility is complete, it will be a multipurpose facility that contains a gymnasium, but the gymnasium will not be the primary focus.”
Goodale continued, “We put the regional sporting events at Beck because we have the space here, and we have seven acres of parking.” Goodale then pointed out the county has a “master recreation plan” and she is committed to sticking to it. “I meet the needs of the entire county, and that is what I try to focus on.”
At the Tuesday meeting, Hemingway referred to the gymnasium as the “athletic component” of the renovation, but never discussed its intended use or hours of operation.
Goodale’s response to questions regarding usage and hours of operation was, “We don’t even have a gym yet. It is premature to discuss programming. But I can tell you that the teams that are playing at Beck now will stay at Beck. We are not going to relocate them to the new gymnasium at Howard.”
The county plan for how the gymnasium would be used was not communicated to a West End citizens’ committee formed to provide input to the county Parks and Recreation Department.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Carolina applauded the reinstatement of the gymnasium, but was unhappy with the lack of communication between the citizens’ committee and the county.
“Our committee met on June 16, and we emailed a copy of the minutes to the recreation department, and we have not had the courtesy of a reply. We still have not heard a word from her (Goodale) on the ideas we submitted,” Carolina said.
On Aug. 6, the Georgetown Times submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to Goodale and Hemingway to obtain all records of communication within the county on plans for the Howard facility renovation, including blueprints for the redesign.
Hemingway provided the plans and copies of relevant emails. The email sent to Goodale by the citizen’s group was not included in the response to the FOIA.
Goodale explained that she had assigned a county employee to be a “community liaison” with the citizens’ group.
The liaison was to meet with the group and report back to her. She acknowledged she had seen the email Carolina referred to and noted the concerns.
“I have seen the email, but I was not obligated to respond.” Goodale said she is always interested in feedback, but acts on the direction of the county council and not a group of citizens.
“If someone wants to come to my office and talk to me, that is fine, but I am not going to meet with small groups,” she said. “I am just not going to do it.”
The county liaison, Randy Walker, said Wednesday that Council woman Lillie Johnson asked him for the names and phone numbers of the people who attended the June 16 meeting.
Walker said Johnson told him a second meeting would not be necessary, as she was going to contact the members of the group personally.
Members of the citizen group said they never heard from Johnson.
Walker related, “I graduated from Howard, my heart is in the West End, and I wanted to help, but after Councilwoman Johnson took the names and numbers from me, I just stepped back.”
Johnson, when asked Thursday Aug. 21, declined to answer questions about whether she knew about the county’s intention to limit basketball play at the Howard facility, whether she had asked the county liaison for the names and numbers of citizens’ group members, and whether she had followed up with contacting them.
When asked what form of communication she uses when speaking with Hemingway and Goodale, Johnson responded, “I communicate with both, and I will leave it at that.”
When asked about her conversation with Randy Walker, Johnson stated, “I will not attempt to get in to that.”
When asked for her thoughts on the Parks and Recreation director’s plan to limit access to the gymnasium and keep all team sporting events centered at the Beck facility, Johnson responded, “I do not care to share them.”
Asked if she had talked with members of the community, Johnson said: “I am going to acknowledge that there are concerns. We have attempted to deal with them in a good way. I am not going to go back and stir up what has happened. The county is moving forward.”
The lack of communication between county officials and West End citizens was an issue that arose at the Tuesday meeting.
Fred Williams, a lifelong West End resident, commended the council on “revamping” the renovation plan, but also asked, “Did you speak with any West End citizens to see what they wanted included in the Howard plan?”
After rolling her eyes and shaking her head, Johnson deflected the question, saying her direct involvement was unnecessary because of a survey of citizens conducted by the Mitney Project.
The Mitney Project is a private nonprofit organization seeking to develop a community center in Georgetown addressing the needs of disadvantaged children.
“I would direct you to go speak with Mitney on that,” Johnson told Williams, who responded, “We the people don’t vote for the Mitney Project, we vote for council, and we want council addressing our citizens.”
Johnson’s reliance on the Mitney Project and its survey stirred grumblings in the audience at Tuesday’s meeting, prompting County Council Chairman Johnny Morant to step in and urge both sides to work together.
“We need the community to bring their ideas forward,” he said, “and we don’t need to focus on any one group, but work together as a community.”
Johnson told the audience, “We do need to work together. I hope the group that is represented here today will not become territorial.” She added, “We have not been working together, and we need to work together for the greater good.”