I-TEAM gets answers after county park closes for months

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Thursday, January 24, 2019
News 12 at 6/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The doors to a city community center in the middle of downtown Augusta have been closed since this summer. Neighbors say it happened with little to no explanation.

A colorful new playground on James Brown Blvd has changed playtime for DJ and his grandfather. But, what's new doesn't make up for what's missing at Dyess Park.

"He asked me how come the building is closed, pop?" said Scott Bovian, who has lived near Dyess Park since he was 15-years-old.

For nine months, the community center building thats stood on the corner of James Brown Blvd and D'antignac Street since 1952 has been locked up and off limits to the community.

"I said I don't know why," said Bovian."You can't just close it down without giving us a reason why you are closing it down and we haven't heard anything," said Bovian.

News 12 found an Augusta Fire Department inspection report from May of 2018. An inspector found five violations in the building.

The inspector wrote: "put fire extinguishers back in building and update other extinguishers in building," "repair fire alarm system and get it inspected," "repair exit sign over back door," "cover junction box in mechanical room" and "repair all bad ceiling tiles that [are] out and with water damage due to leak in the roof and in the outside storage room."

The very last page says: "The building is being condemn[ed.]"

Our I-TEAM went to the Augusta-Richmond County administrator for answers.

"We did close that building in the summer of last year. That was a very old facility it was built in the summer of 1952," said Administrator Janice Allen Jackson, with the city. "Based upon some extensive water damage, we felt it best that it be closed."

When our I-TEAM asked about the report, that states the building was condemned, Administrator Jackson said she didn't know about it.

"I personally was not aware of that. Now I am sure somebody else was, but I personally was not aware of that,” said Jackson.

In a second interview hours later, Administrator Jackson said after further research, it was all a mistake.

"Obviously I was very surprised. Turns out the condemnation never even happened. The fire chief verified for me that the fire department does not have the authority to condemn a building," said Jackson.

"All of the corrections had been made," said Jackson.

Except for the leaky roof, according to Administrator Jackson.

"Sometime after that inspection date, there was heavy rainfall. The ceiling tiles actually collapsed on the floor," said Jackson."At that point, when our rec staff tried to go in and clean that up, they made the decision that it would be very expensive to fix this. Let's get some further analysis done to completely fix the building or if it is in our best interest to do something else," said Jackson.

Nine months later and the city administrator says the building has and will stay closed for now.

"Obviously, it's a concern anytime we have to do that," said Jackson. "At the time it was built, in 1952, there were lots and lots of people in that area and now if you look around there are lots of vacant lots and things there are not as many people depending on that park as there were years ago. There are of course other facilities not so far away," said Jackson.

Little DJ and his grandfather Scott don't quite see it that way.

“The children, they need help and this was one of the places where they did that and I miss that," said Bovian.

The administrator says the city has contracted out with Pond & Company to assess how much it would cost to upgrade Dyess Park so that it can be fully usable. Administrator Jackson says work has already begun to access Dyess Park while it's been closed.

"There are also some ADA concerns with that building. It's a two story building and there is no access to the upstairs. There are a lot of considerations to ADA, costs to upgrade it and utilization," said Jackson.

The Recreation and Parks Department director plans to present Dyess Park assessment findings in February, but make recommendations in the spring, according to Spokesman Jim Beasley.

The city has contracts to do assessments for improvements at Jamestown, Lake Olmstead, Lombard Mill Preserve Trail, and Fleming Park.

Fleming Park is where a young boy was electrocuted in October after touching a ballpark fence.