Whitfield County Unveils Its 1st True Community Center

Thursday, August 10, 2017 - by Mitch Talley

It took 21 years to make the Edwards Park Community Center a reality.

It took less than five minutes for youngsters to start shooting basketball inside the new facility, which officially opened to the public Monday night during a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by close to 100 people.

“We’re super excited about the opening of the building,” Whitfield County Parks and Recreation Director Brian Chastain said as dozens of well-wishers milled about while enjoying finger foods inside one of three multi-purpose rooms at the facility, located off Cleveland Highway.
“Technically, this is Whitfield County’s first true community center.”

Mr. Chastain and former long-time recreation director Roger Crossen, now a county commissioner, recalled the day in 1996 when together, they drew up plans for a community center at Edwards Park.

“Twenty-one  years ago, we sat down and started thinking about this building, and most of it is just about like we drew it up; you wouldn’t believe how happy I am to see this come to fruition,” said Mr. Crossen, who was surprised with a plaque presented by Mr. Chastain for his 23 years of service to the recreation department.

Another long-time recreation worker, Debbie Roper, said she was likewise thrilled about the building, recalling the time 31 years ago when she started working for the department when it was housed in the old magistrate building.

“Then we moved to Gillespie Drive in 1991,” Ms. Roper said, “and so now we’re here at 115  Edwards Park. It’s huge and awesome – there’s just so much space. I think the public and the kids are gonna enjoy the gym capacity, the outside venues, being able to sit under the pavilion and watch their kids cheer or play soccer and football. It was definitely worth the wait.”

The new center houses two basketball gyms with ample bleachers, separated by a concrete block wall, which will also be used for the county’s first volleyball leagues. Walkers will also be able to do 10 laps around the two gyms to complete a mile when the weather is too bad outside.

Also included are three multi-purpose rooms available for showers, birthday parties, meetings, or other events. The largest room, with a capacity of about 250 people, can be used as a movie theater with surround sound.

A pavilion with a concession area and bathrooms will serve the nearby football fields.

The recreation department also moved its staff to the new facility as of Monday, with five offices and a conference room, along with badly needed storage space.

Whitfield County Transit will move into the old recreation offices at Gillespie Drive, and its vacated space in the same building will revert back to additional storage space for the recreation department. The Gillespie gym will continue to be used for recreation basketball games.

“We don’t have a Taj Mahal, but we have a very fundamental, economical building that’s not overly built,” Mr. Chastain said. “You know sometimes you see things get overly done – ours is not under-done, and it’s definitely not overly built, so I think the citizens will be proud that we did look at getting the best bang for our buck. If I did the math right, I think we’re right at $100 a square foot to do this building, so I think that’s pretty good for a 38,000 square foot building.”

With the new facility open, Mr. Chastain says the recreation department will be expanding the programs offered, starting with volleyball and Zumba.

“We’re just kind of working our way into some bigger and better things,” Mr. Chastain said, “just broaden our horizons and not just the core sports that we do, but we’ll branch out and have a few other things, crafts and arts and things like that.”

Chastain thanked the county commissioners, past and present, for their support of the recreation department, as well as architect Tom Wright,  staff members with builder Felker Construction, the county’s Public Works and Buildings & Grounds departments, Bart Rich and IVC for providing flooring at a deeply discounted rate, Eagle Scout Luke Phillips and his troop for their landscaping efforts,  and most especially the Edwards family for donating the land for the park in 1994.

Before presenting a plaque of appreciation to Mr. Crossen, Mr. Chastain praised the former director for his years of service to the recreation department, calling him “my mentor”  who “always had the kids first in his mind.”

“When I was I guess 20 years old, running in telling him we’re gonna tell ’em this and we’re gonna do that, he’s like, now, let’s think… Always the voice of reason for me. I’ve learned a lot from this guy.”

Mr. Crossen expressed his thanks for the recognition, recalling the days when he used to hunt deer and squirrels on the land now occupied by Edwards Park.

He called the new community center “something that I’m very proud to be a part of” and noted that the community center “was done the Whitfield County way, with a lot of people giving back. It’s a perfect example of the way we do things, and I couldn’t be happier. Thank  you, guys, very much and enjoy the park!”

Commissioner Harold Brooker reminded the audience that the center could not have been built without voters approving the SPLOST, which also provided funds for a new fire truck displayed outside that helped the county’s ISO fire rating drop to a Class 3 from a Class 5 effective Sept. 1, lowering homeowner’s insurance premiums for many local residents.

“Always remember what we’re turning around in SPLOST projects is of benefit to the kids and the community,” Mr. Brooker said.

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