Decatur Youth Services faces a lack of space after being told to vacate Brookhaven Middle School, where the heating and cooling system is deteriorating and environmental testing is planned.
DYS Director Bruce Jones said he has not been given a timetable for when he has to be out of the old school building on Fifth Avenue Southwest.
Mayor Tab Bowling said Thursday he made the decision to end DYS' use of the Brookhaven building after Superintendent Michael Douglas told him the heating and air conditioning system was failing and the school board wanted indemnification, which is protection from liability, for people in the building.
Bowling said a memorandum of understanding with Decatur City Schools that allowed DYS to use the building expired Wednesday.
“We’re not in a position to put any money into the Brookhaven facility, and we’ve been told the air conditioning system will not sustain itself through the calendar year,” Bowling said.
However, Councilman Billy Jackson said the reasons given are just excuses for “council members who don’t want DYS in Brookhaven. This is playing politics with children. It’s not about the air conditioning system or indemnification.”
Council President Paige Bibbee pointed to a recent announcement that 3M-Decatur will test three closed landfills, including the Brookhaven site, as a factor in pulling out of the school.
"It confuses me why anyone would want kids in there when they're doing testing of that magnitude," she said. "If they're concerned enough to test, that bothers me."
Youth Services was founded 24 years ago to help low-income and at-risk youths. The program, which annually serves about 1,300 people, has grown to help not only children and teens but adults, too.
DYS uses Brookhaven for tutoring, day camps, drug counseling, behavioral classes, home-schooling needs and basketball, Jones said.
Jackson said the city can give the same indemnification to the school system that it gives to any other owner of a building the city leases.
“It’s not full indemnity, but it’s enough,” Jackson said.
Douglas could not be reached for comment.
Jones said he thought Youth Services had an agreement to continue using Brookhaven. DYS recently put a new sign up and he had lined up partner agencies for the building. He planned to add two more staff members in the new fiscal 2020 budget year, but now the staff is crowded together in offices at the Aquadome Recreation Center.
“We were building up a community, and we needed the space,” Jones said. “This is going to affect our growth.”
Jones said the air conditioning system provides cooling. The concern is keeping the boiler working so the building has heat this winter.
“We found a source to take care of the boiler problem for us,” Jones said.
Brookhaven is built on a landfill that closed in the 1950s. At the request of the city of Decatur and Morgan County officials, 3M-Decatur agreed in July to test the closed waste disposal sites of Brookhaven, Deer Springs (in the Flint area) and Old Moulton Road/Mud Tavern for a class of chemicals known as PFAS that caused the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority to issue a warning to customers in 2016, and that some studies have linked to cancer and other ailments when ingested. 3M previously used PFOA and PFOS, two chemicals in the PFAS family, at its Decatur plant and disposed of the chemicals locally.
Jones said he understands there might be environmental concerns, but he wishes they would decide if those concerns are valid before making him leaving Brookhaven.
Another site unavailable
The directive to leave Brookhaven comes when DYS’ other facility, Carrie Matthews Recreation Center, is unusable for the next six months to a year because of soil problems under the building.
“The time is not good,” Jones said.
Crews have removed portions of the Carrie Matthew gym floor, and Bibbee said a gap can be seen under the floor.
“A custodian there said they raised the floor with cement in the late 1980s or early 1990s and, if that’s the case, they can’t do that again,” Bibbee said.
Jones now has to figure out how to squeeze the DYS programs into the Aquadome. He and Parks and Recreation Director Jason Lake agreed that DYS can use the recreation center’s meeting rooms, but Parks and Recreation will still need the Aquadome gym from October through January for its youth basketball leagues.
“We won’t be able to do as much, and we will lose some partners,” Jones said.
Bowling said he hopes Jones can work something out with Decatur City Schools Athletics Director Watt Parker so DYS can use some school gymnasiums.
Bibbee said she is willing to help DYS find new, more appropriate facilities “but they haven’t told us what they need or what they want.”
Jones said one of the issues that limits DYS is the facilities need to be central to the Northwest and Southwest Decatur neighborhoods where their participants live.
“Most of these kids don’t have transportation, so they need to be able to walk or ride a bike,” Jones said. “That’s why Brookhaven was so perfect for us.”