A Columbus community center is on chopping block. ‘Something strange going on,’ activist says

A center named in honor of a local community activist is on the chopping block again, and another community activist is trying to save it.

Built for recreation more than 40 years ago and now used for meetings and events, the Ardahlia Mack Community Center opened in the 1970s behind Rigdon Road Elementary School. The center was supposed to be demolished a decade ago to make room for a new school.

That plan changed, however, and the new Rigdon Road school was constructed next to the center instead. But now, the center is closing and the property’s future is uncertain.

The Muscogee County School District owns the center’s property at 1306 W. Lindsay Drive, but the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department operates the building.

Parks and Rec director Holli Browder told the Ledger-Enquirer that an MCSD official contacted her “a couple months ago” and “my understanding is that there is interest by the school district to potentially do something else with it.”

As a result, the city stopped renting the center for events and the agreements with organizations to regularly use the center for meetings weren’t renewed in the new fiscal year, which started July 1.

Thursday, MCSD superintendent David Lewis told the L-E in an email, “I was contacted by a non-profit entity in our community that has expressed interest in purchasing a piece of property from the District. As is customary, I am not at liberty to provide additional information at this time, but I will do so if and when the terms of a transaction are finalized by all parties involved.”

Pat Hugley Green, the Muscogee County School Board’s chairwoman, represents the center’s neighborhoods, which are in District 1.

She told the L-E in an email Thursday, “It is important to me that there is access to a community recreation facility. It is also important to me that the legacy of Mrs. Ardahlia Mack is preserved and honored. The superintendent and his administration work diligently to keep the Board apprised of information pertaining to MCSD properties and final transactions are made public.”

The L-E wasn’t able to reach Columbus Councilor Jerry “Pops” Barnes of District 1 before Thursday’s deadline.

Willie Brown, president of the Lindsey Creek Area Civic Association, who is retired from MCSD as assistant director of transportation in January 2018, told the L-E, “I think there’s something strange going on.”

Although she didn’t have statistics available, Browder said, the center was regularly used for various events and meetings until the city stopped renting it.

As recently as Monday, a Narcotics Anonymous group of more than 20 members gathered in the center, although a member told the L-E he knows they must find another place for their twice-a-week meetings.

Brown and the civic association face the same problem. Approximately 15-20 members had been meeting monthly in the center, from September through May, and for special events during the summer, he said.

“We got a call from Parks and Rec about seven days prior to July 1 that the situation had changed,” Brown said. “The school board was calling the property back into their use and we would not be able to meet there after July 1.”

Brown hasn’t found another location — or a satisfactory explanation.

“We are very much questioning what’s the motive to eliminate the only Parks and Recreation facility in our area,” he said.

The department lists 10 other recreation centers on its website, plus four senior centers, in the city.

Parties, reunions and receptions have been among the popular events at the Mack Center, Brown said.

“It’s regularly used on the weekends and during the week,” he said. “… It’s in current operating shape. It’s not a rundown property.”

Asked what he and the civic association will do about the center’s closing, Brown said, “Protest is always an option. … We haven’t decided yet, but the input I am receiving from residents is that we need to take action.”

Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Mark Rice covers education and other issues related to youth. He also writes feature stories about any compelling topic. He has been reporting in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley for more than a quarter-century. He welcomes your local news tips and questions.