The path to a community center

Clinton City Council received an update on ongoing plans to preserve and possibly renovate portions of the old Martha Dendy school building at council’s Feb. 4 meeting – with a sermon thrown in for no additional charge.

Rev. Steven Evans, former pastor of Friendship AME Church, was asked by City Manager Bill Ed Cannon to spearhead an extensive plan for use of the old Martha Dendy property on North Bell Street.

Evans’ aim in previous reports to council has been on finding uses for the building which are “sustainable.”

He said the discussion for how what is left of the building will be used has been a “hot topic.” Evans said the property on which the school sits was originally made available for an African-American school by Friendship AME.

Regarding future use, Evans said. “That can’t just be a recreation center. In the Africa-American community, we get tired of people just giving us basketball courts.”

The city has constructed several outdoor basketball courts on the property after much of the building was demolished. 

“(The building) was become a political pawn,” Evans said. “That needs to stop.” That comment received murmurs of approval from some in the standing-room audience in council chambers.

“We want to make sure what’s going on in College View is also going on in our community,” Evans said. 

He said he envisions three phases of use: a recreation park, the historical piece of the building and as a training center. “We need tangible proof that something’s being done,” Evans said.

He said alumni groups from both Martha Dendy and Bell Street schools are participating in the planning process. Money the city received from the state came with stipulations.

“We can’t just do what we want to do,” he said. “But we need tangible proof that something’s being done.

“Everybody wants their hands on (the building),” Evans said. “But can you sustain it?”

He said the building needs to be more than a youth center since young people are in school most of the day. The building needs to be used to help mothers and fathers, Evans said. 

He said the community needs to invest in young people “who don’t think anybody believes in them. I pray, mayor and council, you understand the city still has to be a viable part of this.”

He said young people could be taught a trade and skills to earn a living.

“Be patient,” Evans said. “It won’t happen overnight. We have to work together. We either live together or we die together. Our community needs healing.”

Evans’ comments were met with applause.

In other business at the Feb. 4 council meeting, Council annexed two pieces of property on Hwy. 56 North that are destined to become the city’s recreation complex.

Council also recognized Ashton and Elaine Barrington, who retired in January after operating Elaine’s Gift Shop and Jitters Café for 18 years. They also operated Harmony House, a gospel music venue.

Council approved a resolution and a framed copy was presented to the Barringtons by Council Member Gary Kuykendall.

“The Lord has sustained us,” Ashton Barrington said. “We love this town. That’s why we’re staying here. We want to help this town to grow. Things have changed. Some for good, some not so good, in my opinion.”


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