News and Tribune

July 28, 2013

New Albany officials eye Ekin Center renovation

Boys & Girls Club primary tenant of city building

By DANIEL SUDDEATH
daniel.suddeath@newsandtribune.com

NEW ALBANY — Not too much is clear about the Ekin Avenue Recreation Center.

City officials aren’t sure how old the building is, how much the two tenants are paying to use the space, or why more funds weren’t poured into maintaining the structure in the past.

One thing that is clear, at least for New Albany Councilman John Gonder. The building should have a future, and that won’t happen without a feasible plan and some directive.

“A failure to act on it, I think, is as criminal as the criminal neglect that went on before,” Gonder said Friday.

That may sound like a serious indictment, but Gonder emphasized saving the building is as important to the community as projects such as adding Little League baseball fields.

The center was the home of the New Albany-Floyd County Parks Department offices through 2012. In January, the parks department split, and the city opened its offices at the Griffin Recreation Center while the county moved to the Southern Indiana Sports Center.

Since then, New Albany Street Commissioner Mickey Thompson has become the de facto overseer of the Ekin center.

Its primary tenant is the Ed Endres Boys & Girls Club, and a table tennis group also rents space on the second floor of the building.

Thompson acknowledged there isn’t really a plan in place yet as to how to foot upgrades to the building, but he took Gonder on a tour of the facility recently.

“I think that thing is a real gem,” Gonder said. “It was amazing almost the neglect that was operated against that building.”

Boys & Girls Club officials approached the city about the status of the building and their deal to use space in the facility.

An official with the Boys & Girls Club said they had located a lease agreement with the city, but the details of that deal aren’t clear, Thompson said.

His primary purpose of taking Gonder on a tour of the building was to raise awareness about the condition of the structure.

“We think it’s still a viable building and can be used for something,” Thompson said.

The most pressing needs are exterior repairs to the structure including replacing a downed gutter, Thompson said.

Gonder dispelled rumors that the building may have a contamination issue, as he said there’s not a mold problem in the building.

Water has leaked through some gaps in the exterior bricks, but Gonder said refurbishing the building shouldn’t be too expensive of a project.

Gonder is also a member of the New Albany Redevelopment Commission and the Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County.

Since being appointed to the board earlier this year, Gonder said he hasn’t requested the Horseshoe Foundation consider funding any specific project.

But he pledged Friday that would change, as he said he will request the body weigh putting money into a rehabilitation project for the structure.

The plans are still preliminary at best, as officials don’t have an estimate on what kind of funding would be required to renovate the structure.

The Horseshoe Foundation committed funds toward refurbishing the Town Clock Church and the vacant building at the corner of Eighth Street and Culbertson Avenue.

The New Albany Little League also garnered a $250,000 grant from the Horseshoe Foundation this year for its new baseball and softball park.

Gonder contested that the Ekin Center, which sits in the middle of a densely populated urban area, is “more universally applicable” to the community than new baseball fields.

The center could continue to be used as a place for youth activities as well as a possible home to an art studio, or it could be rented to various community groups, Gonder said.

The money charged for rent could be put into a maintenance fund to keep the building sound for years to come, he continued.

“When you start looking at the possibilities of what you can do, there are many more possibilities than there are negatives,” Gonder said.

A message left with a Kentuckiana Boys & Girls Club official on Friday afternoon wasn’t immediately returned.