8) East side centers in sad state

By the Evening Times News Staff news@theeveningtimes.com

It was a tough year for the legacy of L.R. and Roberta Jackson. In 2010, the City of West Memphis decided to name the community center on East Polk in honor of the late Roberta Jackson, who was the first black female to serve on the West Memphis City Council, from 1977 to 2000. The building was a staple for the community, with regular activities ranging from garden club meetings to special ceremonies to family gatherings to elections. However, in recent years, the facility fell into a state of disrepair. Controversy over key control, maintenance and vandalism eventually resulted in the City Council moving to shut the Roberta Jackson Neighborhood Center down. Citing health and security concerns, city council voted to close the center to all activities. The neighborhood center, located at 1300 Polk St., had recently served as home to various summertime children’s activities and civic group meetings. The Crittenden County NAACP also met and maintained an office there. “We have had a lot of problems, complaints and commotion at the neighborhood center,” said West Memphis Mayor Bill Johnson in June. “I’ve had conversations with the city councilors in that ward. It needs a lot of work.” An inspection report of needed repairs was preliminary and partial, but included major plumbing repairs that involve jack hammering the floors to replace sewer pipes. “Water closets are stopped up,” said the report. Vandals had apparently poured paint into a toilet bowl. Some of the plumbing has been stripped. Lavatory handles were missing along with hot water lines. Broken glass, damaged doors, stained ceiling tile and roof leaks need repairs. Electrical issues included lights not working, broken receptacles, a malfunctioning GFI in the kitchen and broken or missing emergency lights. Other safety concerns noted missing fire extinguishers and smoke detectors. The heating and air-conditioning made the list too. “The center is in deplorable condition physically,” Johnson said. In October, the council was given an estimate of $150,000 for repairs to the center. City Councilman Tracy Catt said at the time that the estimate was just for general repair, not remodeling. A full plan to rehab the center and develop a better mainenance and operation plan are still in the works. The L.R. Jackson Girls Club, namesake of L.R. Jackson, former Wonder High School principal from 1951 to 1965, also had its share of problems in 2015, a holdover from problems that began in 2014. A number of council members, concerned with the lack of adequate financial and statistical records began keeping a closer eye on the day-to-day at the Girls Club last year. Complaints about a lack of access and programs further pushed the issue to a head, and in October, the council voted to suspend funding of the club, holding on to the club’s share of funds distributed quarterly to the city’s four boys and girls clubs. Access to football equipment, dues and fees, and operating hours all came under fire at the October meeting. Club director Chancey Rainey agreed to post hours and of operation and contact information and open a line of communication, but the council noted a lack of activity at the building and expressed concerns over poor maintenance and disrepair. Councilwoman Helen Harris and Councilman Willis Mondy were especially vocal about their concerns. “We gave them money last time,’ said Mondy at the October meeting. “I didn’t agree with that but went ahead and did it. We’ve had problems just getting the grass cut over there. We give them money, and we can’t even get the grass cut? This past week it was done. They didn’t pick up the paper. They mowed it and paper is everywhere. Something needs to be done. It should have been done a long time ago. But we’ve been letting them go and letting them go. I’ve been by there and seen nobody there, I mean nobody there. The get the money. I don’t know what they do with it but they don’t even cut the grass.” Ultimately, after meeting with L.R. Jackson Girls Club Board President Anita Lewis, the city and club officials were able to come to an accord and the funds were released in late November. By then, however, the club had become another point of controversy, as Councilman Mondy and volunteer coach Kyle Watkins, during a dispute related to the club, got into a physical altercation at the Agape Love Center. Charges were filed against both men. Mondy was convicted of misdemeanor assault. Watkins faces chages in January.

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