Located down the road from City Hall, the center sits on 3.3 acres with a 25,000-square-foot facility.
The city conducts daily free play activities in the game room and the basketball gym. In the fall and winter, the gym is used for youth basketball leagues and practices. The facility is also rented out for family reunions and parties, in addition to the rentals for youth basketball programs, said parks director Rich Buss.
A segregated history
Mayor Steve Tumlin said when he was a boy, the white children swam in one Marietta pool and the black children were confined to the Lawrence Street pool, which has remained closed since 2007 because of the costly repairs needed to fix it.
“The Lawrence Street pool was segregated for the African Americans,” Tumlin said. “Behind Brumby Gym, which was on the old Marietta High School campus, was Brumby pool, which was the white pool.”
Tumlin said when he was a 16-year-old rising junior at Marietta High School in the summer of 1963, he and some of the other white boys played basketball with the black team at the facility. In those days, black students attended Lemon Street School.
“Five or six of us fellows that played basketball at Marietta played five or six of them, and we played each other and somebody got wind of it and they told us the South wasn’t ready for that yet,” Tumlin said. “We were young kids. We just thought we were playing basketball.”
Deane Bonner, president of the Cobb NAACP, was among those to speak to the City Council, noting how many years have passed since the bond was approved.
“The money is just sitting there,” Bonner said. “We are here to say or to ask the council you need to do what you said you were going to do with the money. There is no reason why Lawrence Street cannot be up and ready to run in a year’s time.”
The location is an excellent spot for family reunions and weddings, Bonner said.
NAACP president questions Coleman
“The history of Lawrence Street Recreation Center is very historical,” Bonner said. “I think that most of the council that’s here this evening knows that. So it just makes sense, and it’s a win-win situation to go ahead and use the $1.1 million to get Lawrence Street back up to par. Wouldn’t you think so, Councilman Coleman?”
Bonner addressed the question to Councilman Anthony Coleman, who represents the area in question.
Coleman, who is up for reelection this year, said he agreed.
“So, as the councilman from Ward 5, we would ask you to join the battle with the citizens of Marietta to see that this don’t continue to be on the back burner, that it be brought to the forefront and we do something for Lawrence Street and have that center up and running in the next year,” Bonner said.
Jeriene Grimes of Marietta also expressed concern that nothing had happened to the center.
“I’m concerned about what the council is going to do and how quickly they can do to expedite the improvement of the Lawrence Street Recreation Center for our community,” Grimes said.
Chyna McGarity of Marietta said she swam in the pool as a little girl.
“It’s a historical place,” McGarity said. “I mean, I’m almost 50 years old. That tells you how long it’s been there. It’s imperative to keep those kinds of things in the community so the children are not in the streets and they have a place where they can go in the summer, go swimming.”
France Cook asked that the council take action.
“Where is that money going to go?” Cook asked. “All of you all sitting there, just think if it was your kid and something was taken away from them. We’re just asking you all to please just get together and think — this is a place where most kids grew up and learned. Not sell drugs, but a place where they could go and play and learn. We know there’s money that has been allocated. We’re just asking you all to please do the right thing.”
Charles Levinson, who says he’s challenging Mayor Steve Tumlin for office this fall, also spoke up on behalf of the residents. Levinson said the facility’s roof leaked which, if allowed, to continue would ruin the basketball court.
“This needs to be fixed posthaste,” Levinson said. “This was a promise that was made and it needs to be kept.”
Coleman promises action
The day after residents addressed the council, Coleman said he had spoken with Tumlin and Councilman Johnny Sinclair, who chairs the city’s parks committee, requesting that the committee take up the matter at its next meeting May 1. Coleman said he agreed with Bonner that the old Lawrence Street recreation center should be razed and a new one built in its place in a year’s time. He is not in favor of fixing the pool, but believes it should be filled in and turned into green space with pavilions and perhaps extra parking. A water feature will be built at the city’s other recreation center, Elizabeth Porter, he said.
Coleman said he was not pleased with certain members of the city staff who he believes are dragging their feet on the Lawrence Street project, in particular Buss and Rick Deckman, the man the city hired to manage the bond projects.
“I told Johnny that Rich Buss is not the person to take our parks and recreation to the level we want to take it to. They’re not visionaries,” Coleman said. “They should have already mapped out a plan and presented it to this mayor and council and said this is what we’re proposing.”
Coleman said he was meeting with city manager Bill Bruton about the topic to speed things up.
“I’m going to say I want Rich Buss and Deckman to come up with a design plan that this mayor and council can see where we can move forward and give you all direction on how to move forward and proceed,” Coleman said. “We need to be getting that building torn down and showing us a design plan of a new building, and have that building done in a year, get a contractor in there, tell us what he will build that facility for. It should have been done. We’re in the next election. Johnny’s got opposition, so he ought to be wanting to get this done.”
Mayor: Renovation can be done in year’s time
Tumlin believes building a new facility in one year’s time is feasible.
“We’ve got to keep all these things before us to keep them moving,” Tumlin said. “We do have a full plate, but we are in the third and a half year (of the bond) and we want to do right.”
Coleman observed that Deckman, who was hired in 2010 with a salary of $70,200, which is paid out of the parks bond funding, will only be employed with the city until the bond money is spent. And that gives him an incentive to move slowly, “just milking the city.”
“We shouldn’t be continuing to allow him to drag this out as far as paying him. Hurry up and get these projects done so he can be gone,” Coleman said.
With the impending purchase of the Turner Chapel Recreation building next to Custer Park, and the use of the property in the Elizabeth Porter Recreation Center area, Buss said the council has been weighing the different options for the Lawrence Street Center.
A few months ago, the council approved the purchase of the Turner Chapel Recreation Center at 545 Kenneth E. Marcus Way, and the city is closing on that sale on Monday. That building has about 27,000 square feet of gym and classroom space. The purchase price is $1.2 million and includes the building and 158 parking spaces.
“Given the impending purchase of the Turner Chapel Recreation building, the council will be able to move forward with a clearer picture of what those options are,” Buss said.