CHAPEL HILL - The Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association officially closed its community center indefinitely Saturday because it doesnt have a local permit or meet state building and fire codes.
The Rev. Robert Campbell, RENA president, and David Caldwell, project director, said the community center will be back. Their focus now is finding roughly $600,000 to renovate a nearby 17th-century plantation house they hope to use for a future center.
Orange County, Chapel Hill and Carrboro have been talking about how much to contribute.
Caldwell said they should have looked at the regulations more closely before opening the community center in a rented house off Edgar Street. It would cost too much time and money to keep the 2-year-old center open. The house needs a sprinkler system, public utilities and a site plan approved by the Planning Board, among other changes.
The cost of closing is also high, because children and families in the historically low-income, African-American neighborhood will lose vital support, Caldwell and others said.
Lucy Lewis, director of the Campus Y on the UNC campus, said her students will be disappointed this year by not being able to work at the center, but her real concern is the effect on the children and the community.
I really think that after the decades of broken promises and the terrible impact of the landfill and related programs that have been put in that community
the town and the county owe this community a tremendous debt thats way overdue, and the town and the county need to do everything they can do to expedite and remedy the situation, Lewis said.
The Campus Y, Orange County Literacy Council and others helped provide programs at the center such as tutoring, literacy classes, a summer camp and a food pantry that feds 40 families a month.
Campbell said the pantry closed in mid-July, but Spanish classes will stay at Faith Tabernacle Oasis of Love International Church. The church cant afford to host other programs, he said.
Chapel Hill officials did offer the use of the Robert and Pearl Seymour Center on Homestead Road and the Hargraves Center in the Northside neighborhood, but the hours are limited and the distance creates transportation issues, Campbell said.
One of the reasons were so successful is because it was walking distance, it was convenient, and it was in the neighborhood, Caldwell said.
The Hogan-Rogers House is in the neighborhood but must be moved before St. Pauls AME Church breaks ground in November on a 22-acre complex. The church will incorporate the brick basement, where slaves may have lived and worked, into its African-American history museum.
Church officials met in 2011 with RENA, the Chapel Hill Preservation Society and Habitat for Humanity to talk about preserving the house. Habitat donated two lots in the Phoenix Place subdivision but wants RENA to draft renovation and operations plans before moving the house, local leaders said.
RENA officials have asked the three governments to help pay for the center, citing the 1972 landfill agreement as an unfulfilled promise. They advocate using a formula in the agreement: 43 percent from Orange County and Chapel Hill, and 14 percent from Carrboro.
While it designates the land for park and recreational purposes when the landfill closes, the agreement doesnt specify a building. Campbell said former Chapel Hill Mayor Howard Lee talked about that and other possible community benefits with Caldwells father in 1972.
The county has $120,000 to move the house and will talk about providing another $80,000, Commissioner Valerie Foushee said.
But the conversation about additional funding turned tense at a recent Historic Rogers Road Task Force meeting when Chapel Hill officials suggested the county get the towns contribution from its share of county taxes.
Council member Penny Rich said Chapel Hill is willing to help, but there is no money right now. Rich said she also thinks the true cost of renovating the house could be higher, since RENAs estimate excludes items like a sprinkler system, equipment and how to pay staff.
There has to be a plan for how much its really going to cost to build it.
Whos going to run the place? How many people are on staff? What is the community center going to do? And where are you going to get the funding? she asked. The fundings not going to come from the county after that.
RENA will own that community center.
Carrboro Alderwoman Michelle Johnson said she does not feel there is a clear commitment to help. The aldermen will talk about funding for the center and for lingering sewer issues, she said.
I think whats clear to me is Orange County, Chapel Hill and Carrboro
all need to give some percentage to support this, and I feel like theres a lack of creativity around addressing these issues, she said. I think saying we care but not doing anything about that, I think thats not walking your talk.