With roughly 4,500 Decatur children living in poverty, Council President Paige Bibbee said Monday there’s enough room in the city for the Boys and Girls Clubs of North Alabama, and it needs to take over the vacant Third Street Fire Station.
“We’ve got an obligation to reach as many as we can,” Bibbee said.
Councilman Billy Jackson, however, continued Monday to fight for the demolition of the former Station No. 1 that was closed in 2006 because of black mold and lead-based paint. The Fire Department briefly used the Northwest Decatur facility for storage, but it’s been empty for several years.
“If it’s not safe for firefighters, it’s not safe for children,” Jackson said.
The contentious issue continued to simmer at Monday morning's City Council meeting, when Bibbee and fellow members Chuck Ard and Kristi Hill voted for a resolution that allows Boys and Girls Clubs and its consultants to “evaluate the feasibility for updating and using the facility." Jackson got support from Councilman Charles Kirby, but they were on the losing side of the vote.
Patrick Wynn, president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of North Alabama, has asked the city to donate the fire station to his organization. He says it would complement an adjacent facility owned by Boys and Girls Clubs.
Wynn said his organization is used to dealing with old buildings.
“Even if there was black mold, we’ll do whatever it takes to make sure the building is safe,” Wynn said.
Wynn, whose organization added the Third Street Boys and Girls Club in December, said lead-based paint was remediated in that building while it was being renovated.
Decatur Youth Services Director Bruce Jones said his city-run program annually provides services for roughly 1,300 at-risk youth. While DYS works with elementary-age students, most students it works with are in middle school and high school.
Wynn’s two Decatur clubs serve 125 annually. Wynn also has a 60-member club in Priceville.
While Jackson and Mayor Tab Bowling expressed concern about duplication of services, Jones and Wynn agree there’s room for both groups.
“There may be some duplication of services, but the important thing is more kids can be served,” Jones said.
Decatur City Schools Superintendent Michael Douglas said the school system, with 63% of its students qualifying for free or reduced-cost meals, will work with Decatur Youth Services and the Boys and Girls Clubs.
“If it helps the kids in our community, we will work with them,” he said.
According to the 2017 U.S. Census estimate, 21.8% of Decatur residents live in poverty. Included in that number are 4,465 children under 18. Thirty-two percent of impoverished Decatur families with children under 18 have no father or husband in the household. The median household income in Decatur is $43,176, and 30.2% of Decatur households have incomes below $25,000. The median per capita income in Decatur is $25,737.
Deputy Superintendent Dwight Satterfield said the city offers many services for at-risk youth. He said there’s always someone willing to step out and help.
“My perspective is we need to do anything we can for children, especially those living in poverty,” Satterfield said.
Satterfield said mental health services for at-risk youth is one area in which the city and the school system fall short.
Youth Services offers certified counseling through its “Family Matters” program. The Mental Health Center of North-Central Alabama also provides services, Jones said.
Wynn and Jones said they’re not in competition. Wynn receives most of his funding through United Way.
“My only concern is the impact on my budget,” said Jones, who operates on $860,000 in annual funding that comes mostly from grants.
Bowling said the Third Street Boys and Girls Club suffered through “challenges with its leadership” in recent years while DYS filled the gap and continued to grow.
The mayor said the club's leadership needs to show it's willing to cooperate with Jones “and add more than brick and mortar to the city.”
Jackson and Bowling suggested at a recent meeting that Wynn open his teen center at Brookhaven school, but the City Council is moving forward with Wynn's request to use the fire station.