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Priceville prepares to begin construction of new recreation center

By Bayne Hughes

For the Enquirer

The facility will be a fraction of the size the Priceville City Council planned when it issued $9 million in bonds to pay for it more than three years ago, but construction of a recreation center is set to begin next month.

The $5.6 million, 26,000-square-foot recreation center will be on Marco Drive, just north of city hall, Mayor Sam Heflin said this week. Original plans for the center were for 66,000 square feet, which was whittled down to 52,000 square feet before the current plan was adopted.

The center, which is expected to take at least a year to build, will feature a gymnasium with one basketball court, indoor walking track and meeting rooms.

“I’m excited about it even though this is not what we originally wanted,” said Councilman Tommy Perry, who also served on the previous city council. “We’ve been waiting a long time for this new center.”

The city issued $9 million in bonds in the fall of 2017, which generated $8.275 million in principle. Perry said the city has to show in March that the work has begun, in order to satisfy the bond requirements.

The previous mayor and city council originally hoped to use the money toward building a rec center with four basketball courts, batting cages, a walking track and several meeting rooms; however, councilmembers found that a facility of that size would cost more than their budget.

Councilmembers at the time said an architect told them the larger facility would cost $98 per square foot, or $6.5 million. Estimates on the price gradually increased.

The town became embroiled in a controversy over what to do with the money. Youth league leaders pushed the recreation center, while other residents wanted the city to instead build a fire station and finish Marco Road.

Marco Road runs parallel to busy Bethel Road, and councilmembers hoped extending it to East Upper River Road would relieve congestion and improve development prospects for the town.

Heflin, who became mayor in November, said the previous administration found the money from another source to build a fire station, and it’s about 75 percent complete.

Heflin said the only thing that has changed under the new administration is the exterior look of the new center.

The remaining money from the bond will be used for furniture and other items for the center and initial operating expenses.

Councilman Ashley England said the council and mayor worked with the architect to position the building so the city will be able to expand it in the future.

“We’ve had the money for years, so we need to get something going,” England said. “It’s not as big as we hoped, but I think we’re using the money to create a nice center.”

The council recently awarded the construction contract to Decatur-based Building Construction Associates.

Priceville’s youth basketball teams have been playing home games in the school gymnasiums, but scheduling is always an issue because the schools have to use them too, Heflin said.

The mayor said the youth leagues, which also include volleyball, will continue playing in the Morgan County youth league. They will still need the school gymnasiums for some games, he added.

England said the new center will include multi-purpose rooms the community will use for meetings, birthdays and senior adult card games and puzzles.

England said the plan for center operation is still under discussion. Among the options are hiring a parks and recreation director, letting one of the councilmen run it or letting an existing city employee handle the booking.