It took the Rogers Road neighborhood almost 40 years to open a community center — and only eight hours to empty it.
On Tuesday, David Caldwell loaded up the last of the chairs, folded tables and signs that filled the small one-story community house into his truck and closed the door on the last two years.
Basketball goals were moved to storage, pictures were taken off the walls and books were packed away — indefinitely.
The community center — located in a 70-year-old house off Purefoy Drive — was shut down Aug. 11 for violating fire and safety codes.
According to a memo from Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil, the Rogers-Eubank Neighborhood Association didn’t apply for a permit to use the house as a community center when they opened it two years ago. The house also didn’t have necessary emergency exits, smoke detectors and an evacuation plan.
Rev. Robert Campbell, president of RENA, said they intended to use the house as a community center for five years until they could open a permanent center.
But as local governments struggle to reach a decision on how they will support the historically black and low-income community that has housed the county’s landfill since 1972, residents of Rogers Road grow tired of waiting.
A heated meeting
In 1972, Campbell said the Orange County Board of Commissioners made a deal with the residents of Rogers Road — if the neighborhood housed the landfill for 10 years, they promised them services like sidewalks and a recreation center.
But the landfill’s closing was delayed after the 10 years passed, and then again, and again.
In February, the board set a landfill closing date of June 2013. They also pledged money for a remediation fund that would help give the residents of Rogers Road access to sewer hook-ups and a community center.
At a meeting Wednesday, the Rogers-Eubanks Task Force — made up of representatives from Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County — discussed the two unmet promises.
The meeting was standing room only, and dozens of community members showed their support for the Rogers Road community.
The task force struggled to reach a consensus on how they would fund the community center and sewer access. And the suggested cost-sharing methods — determined by population or waste contribution — caught concern from some Chapel Hill and Carrboro representatives.
They feel they will be paying twice, since they already pay taxes to the county.
Commissioner Valerie Foushee said she just wants to see something done for the neighborhood.
“I think the county at large has benefited from what is a lack of quality of life for these folks,” Foushee said. “I think it should be easy enough for us folks to come together and remedy a situation that has gone on for 40 years.”
Residents of the neighborhood have complained of health problems, a smell and water contamination as a result of the landfill.
The community center
“We were successful in our goal, in bringing diverse cultures together in this neighborhood,” Campbell said. “We broke down those barriers and brought our people together.”
For the past two years, RENA has partnered with community organizations — including the Campus Y and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools — to provide computer classes, summer enrichment programs and a food bank at the community house.
“The longer our programs are gone, the harder it is to bring them back to life,” Caldwell said. “The longer the kids have to suffer, the longer the families have to sit without food.”
Caldwell said they hope to relocate the community center to the historic Hogans-Rogers House, but the county estimates it will cost about $750,000 to move and restore the house. And it must be moved by the first of the year.
Constructing a new center could cost about $500,000.
The task force will make final recommendations for proceeding in December, but it is unclear when the individual governments will make funding decisions.
“Right now time’s against us, lack of money is against us,” Caldwell said. “It seems like everything’s against us, but it’s been like that for a long time.”
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