The spiffed-up Burton Street Recreation Center should really just be called “home,” because that’s what it felt like Monday night as folks gathered to celebrate it’s recent reopening.
Neighbors hugged, carried in covered dishes and checked out the community center’s fresh paint and gleaming halls. A meeting place that was once a shabby symbol of the drug-ridden streets shined with a new sense of pride.
Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy cited all the hard work by the city staffers, police officers and politicians, but said “what really makes Burton Street great is the commitment of the residents” to their 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, with a “hall of fame” display of plaques, proclamations and news stories detailing her work and awards.
The celebration marked the end of a $215,000 project to replace the kitchen, windows, doors, floors and ceilings in the 1920s-era building that was once Burton Street Elementary School. The money came in the form of $155,000 in tax dollars through the federal Community Development Block Grant program, plus $60,000 in taxpayers’ dollars from the city of Asheville. The renovation completed work that started in 2001 with a $50,000 N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust fund grant that paid for improvements to the building’s exterior, including a new playground, fence, benches and signs.
The building reopened in mid-December, and serves mainly as a space for an after-school recreation program and programs for older residents, according to Debbie Ivester of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. It also plays host to neighborhood association meetings, holiday programs and other community activities.
The Burton Street community was in the spotlight last week during Buncombe County commissioners’ discussion of which route they preferred for one of Asheville’s biggest road projects, the Interstate 26 Connector. Commissioners voted to back a proposed route that would demolish about 25 homes in the predominately African-American neighborhood and leave 13 others facing a sound wall. During the commissioners’ meeting, a number of Burton Street residents spoke passionately about their love of a community that’s turning around, as symbolized in part by the re-opening of the community center.
That turnaround has come with the help of more 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, then “seeds” the community with resources. That money has paid for everything from police overtime to programs offering financial planning and disease prevention.
Dawa Hitch, the local Weed and Seed coordinator, said she’ll submit a $175,000 proposal next week for the next round of funding.
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor