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Groups partner on community center project

A neighborhood committee has joined with the Coalition for a Healthier Escambia County in hopes of transforming the current Brewton Middle School into a community center once the building is vacated.

The school, now located on Liles Boulevard, is moving into a new facility on U.S. 31 and Old Castleberry Road in fall 2011.

“We want to make this school building into a community center that will not only serve the black community but the entire city,” community center steering committee chairwoman Alline Manuel said. “By having a community center, we will be able to do something to keep our children off the streets.”

Joining in support of the proposed center is the Coalition for a Healthier Escambia County organization.

Ruth Harrell, chairwoman of the coalition, said the community center is in line with many of the objectives of the group.

“We see the community center as the beginning of an opportunity for Escambia County to begin to focus on wellness,” Harrell said. “Whatever we can do, we need to do it now.”

Manuel said the community center could be a hub for the community where education, activities and exercise can be offered.

“This is in our community and we want to put the building to good use,” Manuel said. “With all of the possibilities for the building and the property this will give the community an opportunity to give our children something to do.”

Manuel said the approval and support of the coalition is a welcome addition to those seeking to make the old school a community center.

“The coalition has certainly jumped on with their support for the center,” Manuel said. “The group is excited about the possibilities of having a place to teach adults and children about healthier eating and living. We have had several nurses and doctors indicate their desire for a center to teach healthy living. We are even discussing the possibilities of a community garden on the property.”

Harrell said she hopes the coalition’s involvement in the program will make the dream of the community center a reality.

“We are happy to have this project come under our umbrella,” Harrell said. “Over the years of the coalition’s work have partnered with a number of organizations to bring programs to the community. We felt it would be a good thing to put the coalition’s stamp of approval on this project.”

The plan for the community center has been in the works for several months since residents in the area had a more certain date of when the middle school building would be vacated.

“We don’t want this building left alone to be destroyed,” Manuel said. “We want to see that building used by the entire community.”

When the City of Brewton sold the land for the new middle school to the school board, the proceeds from the sale were divided among several projects, including the new splashpad at Dogwood Hills. The city also set aside $100,000 of that money in the event that the old school is turned into a community center.

Manuel gave a report to community members during a meeting last week at Baptist Hill Baptist Church. In the report she said the support of the community will be essential when presenting a proposal to city leaders.

“We are in the process of getting a letter to the mayor and city council to see about the use of the middle school after it is vacated,” Manuel said.

“We need the support of everyone when we go before the council. We want them to know that this effort is important to this community and that we have the support of the community the center will serve.”

Although the support of several community members and the coalition are important, Manuel said more support is needed from people all across Brewton.

Another step in moving toward a community center is to have the property recognized by the Alabama Historical Association, Manuel said.

“The middle school was the home of the only public all black school in Brewton,” Manuel said. “That would be a qualification for historical status. The status can only be given to the land where the school sits since it was the home of Booker T. Washington High School.”

Manuel said uses for the community center are practically limitless with so many amenities already in place at the facility.

“With so much already in place at the school we have a wonderful opportunity to take this facility and have a wonderful community center,” Manuel said. “If we are able to move forward with our plans there will be basketball, tennis and a pool available for the community. We can offer computer and exercise classes and so much more. The possibilities of what can be offered at the center are endless. We just need the support of this community to make this a reality.”

The steering committee has already decided it would name the center after John L. Fisher, principal of Booker T. Washington School.

For those wishing to submit letters or comments in support of the John L. Fisher Community Center, contact Manuel at 867-2975.