Unity Center future possibilites examined

November 15, 2011 • Local News

The Buildings and Lands Committee will examine three possibilities concerning the building located at 1500 W. College Blvd., which most recently housed the Unity Center, according to City Councilor Jason Perry, who is chair of the committee. These three considerations include restoring, demolishing or selling the building. Perry said the committee will start looking into these options in the very near future in order to make preparations for the upcoming budget year.

“If we were to have a viable, useable building here on these premises, is this the right spot for the building to be? If we’re looking at the necessity of needing a large building for city use would that be money well spent in another location, is a consideration also for me,” Perry said.

The approximate cost of demolishing the building is nearly $500,000. Charlie Purcell, building official for the city, estimated the cost of refurbishing the building to code would run the city around $1.5 million. He based this number off a cost of $100 per square foot. In the end, the city council will make the final determination on what will happen to the building.

On Monday afternoon, city councilors, workers and officials toured the 14,000-square-foot building, which has hosted the old [auth] Roswell Airport, the police station for the Roswell Police Department, and the Unity Center. The city currently owns the building.

“The mayor called the workshop, wanting the full council to walk through the building so that they could look at what has been done with the asbestos abatement and lead removal, all the pigeon and trash and everything that needed to be taken away,” Perry said, adding, “We can start looking at the determination of what happens from here.”

City officials condemned the building, which hosted the Unity Center, in April 2010 due to safety concerns. The Roswell City Council approved asbestos abatement and the removal of lead-based paint from the building in July as part of the city’s 2011-2012 fiscal budget, according to City Manager Larry Fry, who said $100,000 was allotted for the cleaning. The total cost ended up being $96,849, according to Mike Mathews, who is with special services for the city. Purcell said the removal of the asbestos and lead took around three weeks. All of the allotted money was used for this process.

Security of the building was also a large issue. The vandalism which has plagued the building has slowed due to the boarding of windows, Purcell said.

The mission of the Unity Center is still painted on a wall at the building’s entrance. The words read, “To develop a center for all Roswell teens dedicated to recreation, local activities for education, vocational training, fellowship and mutual understanding free from the thought of any treatment of physical or verbal abuse or harm.” While the rooms in the building are desolate, some still hold signs of life such as small posters, markings on the wall and workout equipment. Councilor Judy Stubbs pointed to a vacant room that once held her office.

“From working in this building there is so much unusable space because of the small rooms. I can’t think of what we’d used them for. So I think the point that maybe I’m concluding is that if it costs a little bit more to build than it would to renovate, wouldn’t it be worth it to renovate to have something that’s useable or built with a purpose in mind?” Stubbs said.

Councilor Bob Maples emphasized the building has no real historical significance. “I would hope that whoever makes the decision, and part of it is from your [Perry] committee, please make sure that these words are spoken loudly and clearly in English, ‘There’s no historical significance to this building.’ There’s nothing historical about this other than the fact that it was one of thousands of municipal airport buildings, and it was no more when we got the new airport. And it became a police station, well lord have mercy you have 5,000 of those in the United States. And there’s no significance to this building as far as the police are concerned. So don’t let that hoodwink you to cause somebody to tapdance around what you have planned for this building,” he said.

Roswell resident Casey Key has voiced his interest in purchasing the building. Key, who was present during the tour, and his wife, Heidi, would like to renovate and reinstate the building as a youth ministry to provide Roswell teenagers with a positive, faith-based environment. The Keys have been involved in ministry at their parish, Tabernacle Baptist Church, for more than four years.

“We have to admit there are people in Roswell who love the memories. I’ve spoken with some of them. I think Charlie [Purcell] and I were talking to one not too long ago that if a plaque was put out here on the premises that has a picture of the old building and some information about it, for a lot of people I think that would be OK with them if that was that important to them,” Perry said.

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