Merrill Center enhancements are disapproved


Mayor Debe Hollingsworth’s ongoing quest to renovate the Merrill Community Center is on the skids again, at least for now.

The Pine Bluff City Council, in a Tuesday night session, voted down a proposed resolution that called for authorizing the Merrill Community Center’s renovation and appropriating $450,000 toward the project.

Aldermen Charles Boyd and Glen Brown and Alderwoman Thelma Walker voted against the proposal, which was supported by Aldermen Bill Brumett and Steven Mays. Aldermen Wayne Easterly, Lloyd Holcomb Jr. and George Stepps were absent.

Mays pushed for the measure’s adoption in a discussion period before the vote.

“It’s time to move forward,” he said, urging an end to months-long bickering on the matter

Walker said the council does not have authority over the center, contradicting Hollingsworth’s statements to the contrary in an Aug. 26 meeting of the parks and recreation commission. The mayor advised the commission then that, according to her findings, it has a responsibility to manage and operate departmental facilities but has no further authority on demolition, construction or remodeling. Hollingsworth said the city could remove the center from the commission’s oversight.

The commission then voted to endorse the facility’s upgrading and a roughly $433,000 appropriation for the project, reversing its Aug. 13 rejection of the same measure. The proposal considered by the council on Tuesday had been presented previously after receiving a do-pass recommendation from the public works committee, but the package was yanked from an agenda and referred back to the commission for additional review.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Brown and Walker repeated their opposition to renovating the Merrill Center.

Brown said repairing the facility would equate to “wasting money” because “not that many children” utilize the facility, and suggested that any available funding should instead be applied solely toward future construction of a proposed multipurpose center, which he believes should be built in phases with work commencing immediately.

Walker said the city needs to “stop patching” current facilities and “give our kids something new.” When Brumett pointed out that an architectural survey concluded that the cost of new construction of a comparable-size center would be around $2.2 million, Walker began questioning the figure.

Mays asked Brown and Walker if they had any solutions to the continuing squabble.

“The multipurpose center,” Brown said with a laugh.

Walker received applause from a few audience members when she said the matter “should go to the parks commission where it belongs, so we can build a new building and a swimming pool for our kids.”

In other business, the council approved two ordinances and seven resolutions.

The ordinances called for:

• Rezoning of roughly four-tenths of an acre at the southwest corner of the intersection of South Cherry Street and West 42nd Avenue; and

• Amending future budgets beginning in 2014 to add a line for council members to be reimbursed for travel expenses.

The resolutions:

• Provided for placement of costs of correcting certain nuisances on tax books as delinquent taxes and collected as such;

• Amended a previous resolution to delete properties declared to be public nuisances;

• Appointed Sedrick Rice and Adam Robinson Jr. to the board of trustees of the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas (separate resolutions);

• Authorized the city clerk to destroy certain redundant checks;

• Appropriated up to $10,000 in 90/10 matching funds for acquisition of an Arkansas Department of Aeronautics grant not to exceed $99,102.75, for use by the aviation commission in making roadway improvements at Pine Bluff Grider Field Airport; and

• Commended the efforts of the VIPS for Vets group in constructing a veterans memorial in the city’s Memorial Gardens, located south of the civic center.

An ordinance calling for amending the current code of ordinances regarding event centers during the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s annual homecoming week activities received its second reading. First readings were given to two ordinances calling for the closing and vacating of streets and alleys in separate locations.