Whitesburg KY

County buys old grocery building, seeks input

Now that the Letcher Fiscal Court has purchased property to build a recreation center, the court wants to know what people would like to have in the center.

“We really want input on what citizens want,” said Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward. “We’re going to be open for suggestions on what we want to include.”

A public meeting is set for 6 p.m. on June 26 in the Letcher District courtroom of the Letcher County Courthouse to give community members an opportunity to let their ideas be heard.

District Three Magistrate Codell Gibson said the recreation center needs to be community oriented. Gibson said several community parks in the county have been designed by community members and he thinks the public should have a say in what goes in the recreation center.

“I would like to see what the community has in mind,” said Gibson. “If you help design it, you would want to take care of it.”

District Two Magistrate Archie Banks is interested in what teenagers and children have to say because he wants the center to be a place they will enjoy.

“We want to make sure what we put in there is what we need,” said Banks.

The fiscal court found out June 6 that its sealed bid of $326,000 had been accepted by the Southeast Kentucky Community College and Technical School for the purchase of the old A&P Food Store building, located next to Dairy Queen on River Road in Whitesburg. The building was donated to the college several years ago by the family of the late Joe and Irene Reynolds.

The fiscal court submitted the only sealed bid for the grocery, for which the college had set a minimum bid of $250,000.

Banks said the property is located in the ideal place for a recreation center.

“It’s in town. It has police and fire protection, water and sewer,” said Banks. “This is the place we wanted from day one.”

Ward estimates the renovation of the building, which is approximately 21,000 square feet, will cost between $5 million and $8 million.

“A lot of that depends on how much restoration would need to be done,” said Ward.

Banks said the flat roof needs to be replaced. He said the building should be evaluated to see what is possible. He mentioned adding onto the building or completely knocking it down and building a whole new structure.

“We didn’t buy it for the building, we bought it for the property,” said Banks.

Banks said as far as what goes in the center, the court is not yet sure.

Ward suggested including bowling lanes, an arcade and laser tag in the recreation center, but said he is looking at different ideas as to what to have in the center.

Ward would like to have a large room with a stage.

“The kids have been wanting a place where they can have open mic (night) once a week,” said Ward.

Banks said teenagers have approached the fiscal court at two different court meetings asking for a place to play music and have dances.

Banks would like to see a large multi-purpose room and an exercise room included in the design of the recreation center.

Ward said if it is possible to add a second floor to the building, he would like to include a walking track and exercise room on the top floor.

Ward said the idea of a movie theater has been tossed around, but he does not think the building is large enough or if it would be feasible.

Derek Barto, Parks and Recreation director, said the recreation center is going to be for both children and adults.

“We’re going to put in activities that families can do together,” said Barto.

Ward said a recreation center is a way to give young people something positive to do in a safe, supervised atmosphere.

“Our young people are in dire need for a place to communicate with each other and a place to be young people,” said Gibson.

Ward said he wants the recreation center to be different from what other counties have so that people from surrounding counties will come to Letcher County.

Ward said the next step is to put finances together and advertise bids for an architect.

Banks wants the recreation center to be well thought out, well designed and something the county can be proud of.

“There’s a lot to this to make sure we do it right,” said Banks. “We don’t want to be a part of something that isn’t class.”

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