Burton Street neighborhood celebrates reopening of community center

The spiffed-up Burton Street Recreation Center should really just be called “home,” because that’s what it felt like as folks gathered Jan. 12 to celebrate its recent reopening. Neighbors hugged, carried in covered dishes and checked out the community center’s fresh paint and gleaming halls. Once a shabby symbol of the drug-ridden streets outside, the meeting place shone with a new sense of pride.

Burton Street’s back: The Burton Street neighborhood recently celebrated the re-opening of its community center after a $215,000 renovation project that replaced the kitchen and repaired ceilings, floors and doors. Photo by Jason Sandford.

Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy acknowledged the hard work by city staffers, police officers and politicians, but she added, “What really makes Burton Street great is the commitment of the residents” to their West Asheville neighborhood. Bellamy highlighted the extraordinary efforts of resident Gloria Johnson to get the community center back on its feet. The ceremony also recognized the center’s first director, Iola Byers, who died last September; a “hall of fame” display of plaques, proclamations and news stories detailed her achievements and awards.

The celebration marked the completion of a $215,000 renovation that replaced the kitchen, windows, doors, floors and ceilings in the 1920s-era building, once the Burton Street Elementary School. The bulk of the money ($155,000) came from the federal Community Development Block Grant program; $60,000 in city funding made up the rest. A $50,000 grant from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund in 2001 paid for exterior improvements, including a new playground, fence, benches and signs.

The building, which reopened in mid-December, houses an after-school recreation program and programs for older residents, according to Debbie Ivester of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. It also hosts neighborhood association meetings, holiday programs and other community activities.

The Burton Street community was in the spotlight last week when the Buncombe County commissioners’ discussion of which route they preferred for one of Asheville’s biggest road projects, voted to back a proposed route for the Interstate 26 connector that would demolish about 25 homes in the predominantly African-American neighborhood and leave 13 others facing a sound wall. During the meeting, a number of Burton Street residents spoke passionately about their love of a community that’s been turning around—symbolized in part by the community center’s reopening.

The revitalization has been aided by additional federal tax dollars. Over the last three years, the community has received $525,000 through the Weed and Seed program, which targets “weeds” such as crime and then “seeds” the community with resources. The money has paid for everything from police overtime to financial planning and disease-prevention programs.

Dawa Hitch, the local Weed and Seed coordinator, said she’s preparing a $175,000 proposal for the next round of funding.

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