Commissioners working toward Smithville Community Center
by Staff Writer
CORNELIUS – Preserving a neighborhood’s past while providing a safe, productive environment for children and adults is what two Cornelius commissioners are pushing for by creating a community center in Smithville.
The plans are still in the preliminary phases, but commissioners Chuck Travis and Lynette Rinker are hopeful those plans will come to fruition in the next two years.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about for the last two years, but the need, we know, is there now,” Travis said.
In December, Travis invited Rodney Short, the executive director of the Ada Jenkins Center, to a commissioners’ meeting to explain some of the programs the center provides to Cornelius residents.
The Ada Jenkins Center, which is headquartered in Davidson, provides health, human and education services for residents in Huntersville, Davidson and Cornelius. One of it’s most popular services is its after school program.
“Most of the participants are from Cornelius, and there’s a waiting list of students,” Travis said.
Travis said it seemed strange to bus kids from Cornelius to Davidson when there’s a need and room for that kind of after school facility here in town. He added that while the towns of Huntersville and Davidson contribute financially to the Ada Jenkins Center, Cornelius does not.
“We try not to just hand out money, but if our residents are benefiting, it’s a fit and we need to help,” Travis said. “The potential for influence in kids’ life is the greatest when they’re young, so why aren’t we doing this? We need something to help be a catalyst for the renovation of Smithville, and kids in school, so why don’t we combine the two?”
Travis said the ideal scenario is to create a community center that will provide children with after school programs, job training programs for adults through nonprofits like Goodwill and activities for senior citizens.
“Ada Jenkins is just a piece of this,” Travis said. “They do a lot of things for the community, but I don’t see all their functions coming over here.”
Rinker and Travis will meet with residents of the Smithville Center Coalition, a group interested in the community center project Thursday, Jan. 5, to get a better understanding of the community’s needs.
The site for the proposed community center is the old Rosenwald School in the heart of the Smithville neighborhood. The Rosenwald School was created by the owners of the Sears, Roebuck Co. primarily to serve the African American community in the early 1900s.
The old school house has undergone numerous renovations over the years, but Travis is hopeful that perhaps enough of the original building is still intact so that, should the commissioners sign off on the center’s creation, the town could seek assistance and funding based on the building’s historical significance.
Travis said not only is the school centrally located, so that students from Cornelius Elementary School could walk to the facility, but it has a historic significance as well.
“It’s in the center of Smithville and it’s in an area where unfortunately we’re going to see gentrification take over, so the people embedded there … their kids are going to move away and something will transition and happen to it, and eventually it won’t be a historic African American community, it’ll change.”
Travis said he’d like to see the neighborhood preserve its heritage, and said with a waiting list hundreds of kids long for the Ada Jenkins Center’s after school program, the time to make the community center happen is now.
“I’m tired of talking about it,” Travis said. “Let’s do it, make it happen. I have two years left – let’s get this thing done. It really shouldn’t be that hard. It makes perfect sense to me.”
He said the cost for this project would likely be around $500,000, with $200,000 of that being the purchase of the old school house — though he’s hoping the town could work with the landowner to settle on a lower price.
Rinker said she also feels a community center would be a great fit for the Smithville neighborhood, but she wants to make sure it serves anyone who could benefit from the services, not just those who live in Smithville.
Rinker said, for a number of years, three retired school teachers held an after school program at the old Rosenwald School and later moved it to the Cornelius Presbyterian Church, but they could only do so much with three teachers. She believes it’s time for something that can last and meet the needs of everyone in Cornelius.
“I will encourage us to offer programs that attract a broad cross section of people from our town, and not a very narrow segment, because the more opportunities — as we learned during our comprehensive master plan — the more opportunities we have to come together and meet, the stronger our ties and the better a community it makes us,” Rinker said. “We’re not a neighborhood, we’re a town.”