Funding delays proposals for Howard Warner building
by SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
Just when it seemed there were no new ideas for the reuse of the historic Howard Warner School building, owned by the city of Newnan, two new proposals appeared, and were recently presented to the committee tasked with recommending a future use for the building on Savannah Street.
Both ideas, one for a Montessori school and the other an arts and music program for after-school hours, would provide benefits to the community, and members of the committee were impressed with both proposals.
But neither applicant has any foreseeable way of making the projects work without fundraising success or through funding from the city.
Before the building can be used for anything, major repairs and renovations will need to be done — with an estimated cost of $1.75 million.
So far, city officials have said no public money will go into the projects.
Newnan City Council member and Mayor Pro Tem Cynthia Jenkins would rather use the building the way the community originally asked for it to be used — as a community center.
Shortly after the Coweta County Board of Education gave the building to the city, the city set out to find the best use for the facility. Residents of the Chalk Level neighborhood overwhelmingly wanted a community center, and Jenkins supported that proposal.
The city council chose the Coweta Early Learning Initiative as a use for the building. That project fizzled when expected funding fell through. Last year, the city tried again with RaKoo, which was to operate an arts and music preschool. The funding also fizzled.
Since Howard Warner wasn’t going to be the community center, the city started looking at other potential sites in Chalk Level and other nearby areas.
A community center for the city’s east side neighborhoods has been in the talking stage for years, and Newnan designated $500,000 in the 2006 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax and $1 million in the 2012 SPLOST.
The city could also apply for a Community Development Block Grant from the state, for up to $500,000. Jenkins would like to see the building renovated plus a gym and playground built.
There were a few pieces of land identified that would have been acceptable sites for a new community center, but none were great.
The biggest obstacle right now is finding an organization to provide a program at the center. When they were looking at other tracts of land for the possible community center, “we never got past the program. Some of the council members have been very adamant” that “we’re not going to build a building unless we have a program,” Jenkins said. The Boys and Girls Club operated for 10 years before the city built it a building.
A program is definitely needed, as there’s very little in the area for kids to do. The closest park and playground is C.J. Smith Park on Farmer Street, and there are no programs available.
There is an Early Head Start program and a day-care center nearby, but once youngsters are school aged, there isn’t much on that end of town. The Coweta Cobras have a football and cheerleading program, but that’s limited compared to the needs.
The biggest need right now is for after-school care and summer programs for children ages 5 and up, Jenkins said.
“We have more families living at the poverty level or below than anywhere else in the county. And we’ve got a ton of kids over there with absolutely no services,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins doesn’t see getting the project built as being “a huge financial hardship on the city.” But running it could be.
“I think that we still have to look at our local non-profits,” Jenkins said. “I believe if we can get one of them to provide that large service,” maybe other organizations could provide ancillary services like senior citizens programs and job placement programs.
“It would be wonderful… if we could make it work,” said Councilman Bob Coggin.
“We need a recreation center so badly.”
Coggin said he might support spending the first $500,000 before a program is identified but not more than that.
“I would be very supportive of exploring all the possibilities,” he said. “I would be supportive of doing something that will have a good, sound logical business reason for doing it, and you have all the facts and know exactly what you are dealing with.”
None of the other Newnan City Council members could be reached for comment Friday.
Since the earlier proposals have fallen through, Jenkins feels making Howard Warner the east-side community center is the obvious choice. The city owns it, it’s a historical building in need of repair, it means a lot to the community, and it’s in the perfect location.
“That is what I hope we can make happen. That is what I am working for,” Jenkins said. “That is what I hope I can get the community support and the council support for making it happen.”