Originally created 08/14/04

Open arms welcome seniors



Augusta's new Sand Hills Park and Community Center officially opened Friday on Fleming Road in the Hill area of west Augusta.

More than 100 people, including elected officials, recreation department employees, Sand Hills community leaders, engineers, builders and senior citizens from the Senior Citizens Council on 15th Street, attended the ceremony.

Seventy-eight-year-old Joseph Franklin voiced the feelings of many seniors who formerly frequented the 15th Street facility but have transferred to the new park.

"I like it. I like it," Mr. Franklin said. "I'm not used to it, but I think it has great potential."

"I think the 15th Street center was very good, but I think it's going to work out," said 70-year-old Unicetine Lewis.

Harland Mason and his wife, Barbara, said the new center looked pretty good, but they reserved final judgment.

"I want it to continue as we had it," Mrs. Mason said. "I want to continue to show the compassion and caring and friendship and love we had on 15th Street."

Sidney Waltower, 82, was more complimentary of the new 7,300-square-foot center at the 2.6-acre park development.

"Fifteenth Street was all right, but I think this place is more better because it's more newer," he said.

The $812,000 center was paid for with local option sales tax and federal Community Development Block Grant money.

The park development includes a lighted walking track, multiunit play system, paved parking, landscaping and open space. It also has a covered picnic pavilion and a restroom that is open 24 hours a day for all park patrons.

The senior nutrition program ended at the 15th Street facility after the CSRA Regional Development Center rebid the contract and awarded it to a Florida company in March. The loss of the contract has jeopardized other senior programs that operated in the center that is expected to close.

In remarks during the noon opening ceremonies at the Sand Hills center, Augusta Commissioner Willie Mays said he felt a little bit like Charles Dickens, a reference to "the best of times" and "the worst of times" in A Tale Of Two Cities.

"Ms. Beard has brought our seniors from our senior center on 15th Street," he said. "I remember being a part of that old city administration that helped to fund and put in that money to get that building purchased, to get it started and to get it up and running.

"And I was saddened on yesterday in terms of where that situation had gone," Mr. Mays said. "But I'm not here to pass any blame or judgment. There is a court battle going on. But I stand here to tell you who will not be the losers in it. It will not be the seniors of this community."

The senior council's suit against the regional development center is scheduled to be heard in Richmond County Superior Court on Aug. 23.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.