Howard Warner School
Councilwoman proposes using building as community center
by Sarah Fay Campbell
At Tuesday's meeting of the Howard Warner Committee, Newnan City Councilwoman Cynthia Jenkins presented her plan to turn the historic but dilapidated school house into a city community center and recreation center.
Howard Warner School, located on Savannah Street, was the city's black high school from 1935 until desegregation. The Coweta County School System used the facility for offices for many years, and donated it to the city after vacating it in 2008.
The Howard Warner Committee was appointed by the Newnan City Council to look into potential uses for the former school.
The city had previously approved two organizations to use the facility but required those organizations to get the building up to code - an undertaking estimated to cost $1.75 million. None of the organizations have been able to come up with the money.
'I think we all realize that is a huge undertaking that small nonprofits just can't do,' said Jenkins.
The city of Newnan has $1.5 million set aside from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for a community center on the east side of town. That money could be used to get the building up to code and demolish the newer part of the building, to make room for a gym, Jenkins said.
The money to get the building up and running is just one issue. The other is getting an established organization to run the facility and programs - an organization 'that we can have confidence would be able to run it for a very long time,' Jenkins said.
To qualify for the city funding, the facility has to have a recreational component, which means a gymnasium will likely need to be built.
Jenkins said she has been talking to both the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club about programming and services at the facility. 'They have expressed that they have interest, but they have not committed to having a satellite center at Howard Warner,' Jenkins told the committee.
In addition to programs, 'we really need a building manager if we want a building that is open five or six days a week,' Jenkins said. She's approached Coweta County, and 'they are interested in being that building management service.'
That would allow the nonprof its providing the programs to 'not have so much overhead so that their budgets would be more effectively used toward programming.'
With the county 'handling that piece of it, it would be much easier for a non-profit to come in' and offer programs if they are 'not responsible for the entire building and all the overhead that goes with it.'
In addition to the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club, there could also be room for 'other organizations to operate in that building at various times,' Jenkins said. 'Now, we're not talking about making this so every small organization that meets once a month can come in and do whatever.'
Newnan City Councilmen George Alexander and Bob Coggin also attended the meeting, as did County Commissioner Al Smith, who represents the Fifth District that includes most of Newnan.
The county's participation is 'absolutely critical,' said Coggin.
Alexander said the city will be looking for longterm commitments from the organizations.
Jenkins said she'd like to see the city tap into the SPLOST funds, as well as apply for a Community Development Block Grant. If the county goes in on the grant application, the project would be eligible for a larger grant.
There are still details that would need to be worked out and commitments that would have to be obtained, but 'this is a starting point for us to look at a real solution for this as opposed to … running ourselves around in circles,' Jenkins said.
Before Jenkins spoke, Brenda Martin of the NEWETA Club and Newnan Chapel United Methodist Church presented plans to the committee for a community center that would be operated by the church in partnership with NEWETA.
Committee member Leroy Hill asked if NEWETA could have some space in the building to organize some of the programs that were proposed.
'On a macro level I think there is room for them to operate there,' Jenkins said. 'However, it would all depend on how much the major organizations would want to operate out of those facilities.'
'This is what I have been waiting for, something like this,' said committee member Minnie Robinson. 'I am proud to hear this proposal.'
Committee member Winston Dowdell asked about fees.
'I'm sure the entities that I have mentioned are going to charge something,' said Jenkins.
Committee Chairwoman Rebecca Gibson asked if there has been any consideration 'as to how those moving parts' will come together. Will there be a governing board or foundation, or 'will one of these moving parts do everything?'
There are some details 'we are going to have to work out,' Jenkins said. 'I think this is the idea that's had the most legs of all.'
Jenkins said she wants the committee to help shape the project and have input in the details. 'I want some help in fleshing it out and making it happen,' she said.
The committee asked Jenkins to put together a proposal in writing. The committee will meet again on Dec. 2.