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A Reason for Hope at Scotland

Scotland Community Center gets preliminary recommendation to be torn down and rebuilt.

As she looked at preliminary projections of what the shape of the next Scotland Community Center could take, Florence Crawford was torn. On the one hand, she was excited that the present overcrowded, worn facility that services her neighborhood could be replaced with a larger, state-of-the art building. On the other hand, she has been down this road before, a dead-end road paved with promises that led nowhere.

“I’m trying to be excited,” Crawford said.

A report by a team of architects commissioned by the county's Recreation Department to study the conditions of eight community centers around the county, including the Scotland Community Center, has given cause for some excitement. Of the centers that were studied, only the Scotland center was recommended for a full demolition and reconstruction.

“It’s important to understand that this is only a preliminary recommendation at this point,” said Jeff Bourne, the division chief of the County’s Department of Recreation. Bourne spoke at a meeting at the center on Friday, June 15, where he discussed the findings of the architectural team. The preliminary recommendation is an early step in the process of getting a rebuilt Scotland Community Center onto the county’s next Capital Improvement Program (CIP), the budget for county building projects that covers a five-year span. The CIP that County Executive Ike Leggett will submit to the County Council for approval in January 2008 will budget projects between 2009 and 2014. Scotland’s goal, and that of the Recreation Department, is to get a new Scotland Community Center onto that CIP.

“This is just the beginning — a baby step in — in what will be a pretty lengthy process,” said Chuck Williams, who represented the Scotland Community and Action In Montgomery at Friday’s meeting. Action In Montgomery (AIM) is a faith-based, non-partisan community activism group that is working with historically black communities in the county to obtain funding for renovations to their community centers.

“I’M AWARE of the process that happened before and I’m aware that it went nowhere,” Bourne said. Members of the community have been urging for the center to be improved since the early 1990s. The last time there was talk of renovating the center was in 1999, Bourne said, but those efforts died on the vine because they were never formalized. This time around the process has already surpassed the progress of previous efforts, due in no small part to the efforts of the Scotland community and the involvement of AIM. If those efforts continue the result could be different from the past, Bourne said.

“If we work together,” Bourne said, “I think we can go further.”

If built to the specifications of the preliminary recommendation, the new facility would be at least three times the size of the current structure, said Tim Dibble, one of the architects. It would also include a full-size, 3500-square foot gymnasium, a larger all-purpose room, a full-size weight room, a full-size kitchen, larger administrative offices and increased storage space.

“The message that we heard from everybody … is [the center is] just not serving your needs very well right now,” Dibble said.

“We have a very, very small site, [and] very steep topography to the site,” said Bourne.

The site is between the Scotland parking lot and the Cabin John Regional Park. To maximize space on the site the walls of the building will be pushed out toward the parking lot. Currently a stairwell descends from the parking lot into a 20-foot gap between the parking lot and the building, that is often referred to as “the moat.”

The new center would cost roughly $7.5 to $8 million to build, Bourne said. From the time of demolition to the time the new center would open would be about a year and a half, Dibble said. There are no concrete ideas about how and where the center’s programs would take place during that interim, Bourne said.

CRAWFORD GREW up in Scotland and remembers when there was no community center at all, just a grassy field. She remembers, too, the disappointment from the previous efforts to renovate the cramped facility. That disappointment has led to skepticism in the community that has limited the support and involvement of Scotland residents in this latest effort.

“After you leave people behind, they tend to stay where you left them,” Crawford said. “People are scared to get excited.”

The response of those who gathered at the center was guardedly optimistic.

“We think this is excellent,” said Williams, before adding a reminder from the past. “Promises have been made, promises that weren’t kept.”

Long-time Scotland resident Bette Thompson said that she for one is encouraged by the progress that has been made.

“This is the furthest that we ever got,” Thompson said as she looked at the preliminary renderings. “We never got anything like this before.”