City of Dover Mayor Carleton E. Carey has told members of a City Council committee he wants to see a plan to deal with the lack of recreational activities for residents on the east side of town.
In a memorandum released to the Dover Post on Jan. 2, Carey said he feels “there should be a plan to proceed, including a timeline, to determine the future of the Dover Park off White Oak Road.”
The Dec. 19 memo to the Parks, Recreation and Community Enhancement Committee is the latest missive in an ongoing effort that began in July, when the committee recommended demolishing the now vacant recreation building in the park. Members of the public soon protested, with the general consensus being the city needed to provide some sort of recreational activity in the area. However, in a split vote, council sealed a demolition decision Nov. 25, only to have Carey veto it the next day. The council has not taken action to override Carey’s veto.
City staff members have estimated it would cost upward of $110,000 to renovate the existing building, which has been deteriorating ever since the city’s recreation offices moved out in August 2012. In contrast, estimated costs to tear down the building have been pegged at approximately $30,000.
But there have been no plans put forward on what to do if the building is kept, or any alternatives in the event it is demolished, Carey said.
The overreaching concern is giving area residents, particularly children, a safe and fun place to exercise, play and spend their leisure time, he said.
“The people over there are very concerned about this,” Carey said. “They’re concerned about having proper recreation, about having a place to go and about having good programs available.
“We have to make sure those children have something to do on weekends, after school and on summer vacation instead of being on the streets without having anything constructive to do.”
Carey wrote the memo because fate of the empty building is essentially in limbo: with no decision on whether to keep the building or demolish it, no one can do anything.
His letter is meant to get something going, he said.
“It’s not a directive,” Carey said. “It’s a plan to move forward, that’s how I look at it.”
Carey laid out eight points in the memo, including, 1) surveying area residents to find out what they want; 2) determining if the current building meets those needs; 3) if not, figuring out what type of building is needed; 4) deciding what activities could take place in the building; 5) finding a source of funding for repairing the old building or constructing a new one; 6) determining who would operate any recreational facility; and 7) setting goals to accomplish the project.
Page 2 of 2 - The eighth point would be to demolish the recreation center if there was a consensus to move forward but not to use the building.
Carey said he feels there is enough community support to bring an east side recreation center to fruition, adding he’s spoken with neighborhood and church leaders about the idea.
“This is going to take neighborhoods working together,” said one of those community organizers, Bishop Marion Lott.
“We do know we want a facility to accommodate the needs of the youth in that community,” Lott said, adding the community may look to the Capital School District, Delaware State University and the Greater Dover Boys & Girls Club to recommend different types of recreational programming.
“I believe those individuals would be interested in mentoring people in the community with some projects they are doing,” Lott said.
One of the more provocative ideas might be to set up recreational activities in existing vacant buildings near, but not in Dover Park. That would help alleviate the problem of constructing a new building, although funding still would be required for renovations and upgrades.
“The key thing is having a facility where we would be able to conduct programs that actually would get the attention of young people on the east side of Dover, programs that would work for them,” Lott said. “You can have a really nice facility, but if you don’t have something that gets their attention, you won’t have any participation.”
With the city facing a budget deficit over the next five years, finding a way to pay for any recreational programs may be the biggest challenge, Carey said.
“Can the city afford it? If you look at it dollars-and-cents-wise, no,” he said. “But where there is a will, there is a way.
“I’m hoping some group, some organization may come forward or some grant money will become available so we can fund it,” he said. “Some of these people also may be willing to pitch in and help with programs and to provide people to run those programs.”
The Parks, Recreation and Community Enhancement Committee is expected to take up the subject of a recreational needs assessment at its Monday, Jan. 13 session.
The meeting will be held at 3:30 p.m. in the City Council chambers, and is open to the public.