NEEL — If bids come in as expected, residents in the Danville-Neel area may be enjoying a county-owned gymnasium within a year.
District 2 County Commissioner Randy Vest said the idea is not new, and the project is long overdue.
He said plans for the 10,500-square-foot facility at West Park off Iron Man Road remain on the drawing board but should move forward once the health department approves the sewer proposal. Vest said there are four possible sites near the parking lot for the gym.
Longtime Neel resident Rod Gillott, 56, was excited to hear the news of a gym planned for West Park.
“That’s a huge deal for us,” he said. “It will definitely be used. I see it as a gathering place for the entire community. We’ll have youth and adult basketball leagues play there — maybe even an old man league for people like me."
Gillott said he could imagine a gym also being popular as a place for volleyball.
"Volleyball is big here. The entire state knows about Danville’s volleyball program," he said. "We can have some concerts, church gatherings there. It’ll be a great place for us.” Danville High won the Class 4A volleyball championship in 2014.
Vest said the gym will likely carry a price tag between $500,000 and $1 million. Daikin America donated $160,000 toward the project.
Daikin spokesman Forrest Keith said his company wanted to give money to a project that would benefit many people.
“We asked the County Commission for their recommendation of some projects that everyone in the county could benefit from and use,” he said. “Among the projects they told us about a gymnasium at West Park and said it was high on their list. We liked the idea and are super excited about the project.”
Vest said the Daikin gift was enough to tilt the scale.
“The generous donation by Daikin kick-started this project,” he said. “Talking with contractors, we weren’t sure we could undertake it on our own.”
Vest said the county will borrow $500,000 for the project and repay it from the District 2 Road and Bridge Department over 10 years. The fiscal 2020 road and bridge budget for District 2 is $518,225.21, Vest said.
“That money is like a second general fund to us,” he said. “Money out of it can be used for many things. We use it in our general fund for bond payments, jail, anytime we have underage.”
He said road and bridge department money often goes into site preparation work for volunteer fire departments and senior citizen centers.
He said the road and bridge money is totally separate from the gasoline taxes tied to Rebuild Alabama.
“(The money for the gym) won’t affect the way we are able to operate our district and take care of our roads,” Vest said.
Vest said plans call for the gym’s wooden floor to be 84 feet by 50 feet, high school regulation. “If there is ever a problem at the schools, they could borrow it without any problems with the floor size,” he said.
He envisions restrooms, office space, a concession stand, a storage room and bleachers in the new facility.
Morgan County Parks and Recreation Director Sean Dailey said the county’s 102 athletic teams will benefit greatly from the county-owned and operated gym.
“We have a great working relationship with the schools,” he said. “We use their gyms for our leagues. But this gym will have us going from being a welcomed house guest to owning our own house.”
He said sometimes league play has to be suspended or canceled because a school has a special event that requires using the gym.
Dailey said the gym’s hours and staffing are still unknown.
“We have a number of part-time park coordinators who work outside ball games, and we’ll probably be using them," he said. "It’s too early to tell how many we’ll need.
“This will give us the opportunity to host more Alabama Parks and Recreation tournaments. We’ve had (Amateur Athletic Union) and (USA Volleyball) teams reach out to us about the gym. We plan on keeping it booked and used.”
Vest said the addition of the gym will make West Park one of the nicest athletic complexes in north Alabama. West Park presently has four baseball and softball fields, a full-size regulation football field, three soccer fields, an outdoor basketball court, a 20-lane archery range, a pavilion, playground and nature and exercise walking trails.
“We’ll see what our cost is when we put it out for bids,” Vest said. “Some of our wants may have to get scaled back to fit what our money is. We want to be very fiscally responsible with the taxpayers' money and give them something with longevity.”