Henry County has received a $50,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to study how to create a new, sustainable future for the Fieldale Recreation Center.
The planning grant will be used as a to determine possible interior uses of the building — including tenants, according to Lee Clark, director of planning, zoning and inspections for Henry County.
A lot of work has been done to the exterior of the building, including structural improvements, addition of a stage and amphitheater outside, grounds improvements, sports facilities and more, he said. The result has been a marked increase in use of the facility, he added.
The next phase is to try and help the Fieldale Heritage Inc., which owns the building, and the Fieldale Recreation Inc., which operates the building and property, increase use of the inside of the center, Clark said.
So the grant funds will be used for two purposes. The first is to have an asbestos report done to determine where asbestos is located inside and have it tested so officials will know what abatement will be needed before any renovations can be done, he said.
The second use of the grant will be used to prepare a feasibility and sustainability study for the building’s use, Clark said.
The ultimate goal is to see the building used to the fullest extent possible so it can be financially sustainable, according to Clark. He and Mary Ann Mason of the planning office met with the heritage and recreation boards on June 27 and everyone was on board with that, he said.
“There has to be occupancy to be sustainable,” he added.
Tenants and programming would generate income to maintain the center. They could included offices, rented spaces or permanent occupants, sporting events and other recreation activities, he said.
The study to be funded with the ARC grant will show what kinds of businesses could be located in the building and what kind of programming or other uses could be implemented to create revenue, he said.
Occupancy is not a new idea for the center, he said, explaining that barber and beauty shops once existed there.
Andrew Kahle of the recreation board said earlier that if there was a tenant, occupancy insurance would be needed, and that would allow for other uses of the building such as gym rentals.
“Gym space is at a premium in the area” and the center gets inquiries frequently about renting it, Kahle said. That would generate revenue for the rec center and also create traffic around it, he said.
Improvements already made to the facility and the opening of the pools have done that to some extent, but the ultimate goal is full use of the center, he said.
“Everyday there are 20 to 30 kids playing pickup basketball on the courts” and elsewhere on the center grounds, Kahle said. “It’s a really good sight. If they’re not playing ball, they might be getting in trouble.”
Because the Appalachian Regional Commission is on the federal fiscal cycle, the grant money will not be available until after October, Clark said. He anticipates that requests for proposals for the sustainability study will go out in January.
The asbestos testing and report should only take a month or two, he added.
Once the asbestos report and sustainability study are done, Clark said ARC funds will be sought to implement the recommended changes.
Improvements to the community center are part of the Smith River Small Towns Collaborative, which is an effort to revitalize Fieldale, Bassett, Koehler and Stanleytown.
“From the beginning we’ve tried to do what we could for both Fieldale and Bassett. We’ve done a lot in Bassett,” including nearly completed improvements to the Bassett train depot and nearby facades, Clark said. “To be as fair and balanced as possible, we now are concentrating on the Fieldale Recreation Center. We want to do for them what we did for Bassett.”
ARC also helped fund the Bassett depot renovations, he said, calling the ARC one of the “go-to funding sources for projects in this area.”
The latest grant is part of more than $4.9 million in ARC grants announced June 10 by Gov. Ralph Northam. The grants will be used for 20 projects in the Appalachian Region of Virginia, which encompasses 25 counties and eight cities in Southwest Virginia, according to a release from Northam’s office. ARC will finalize approval of the project awards later this year.
The Appalachian Regional Commission was established in 1965 to help the region achieve economic prosperity that more completely reflects the nation’s overall prosperity. ARC funds are broadly aimed at providing economic development in the Appalachian Region.
The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) works with localities and stakeholders in the region to assist in developing strategic projects that are evaluated by DHCD and the governor.