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WATCH NOW: Fieldale Recreation Center gets a second shot at life
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WATCH NOW: Fieldale Recreation Center gets a second shot at life

If a grant application recommended by Gov. Ralph Northam is approved, the Fieldale Recreation Center would get $500,000 for repairs and be on its way to once again becoming the hub of the community.

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The Fieldale Recreation Center might come back to life as a hub of activity for the community just northwest of Martinsville.

That’s if the Appalachian Regional Funding Commission, a federal agency, votes this fall to grant the center $500,000 for repairs.

Fieldale Recreation Center front

Arabella Gilbert sits on the steps of the Fieldale Recreation Center. If grant funding comes through — the final word will come in the fall — enough repairs could be made to the center so that it can open again as a hub of community life, and a place for kids to gather.

Gov. Ralph Northam is co-chair of the ARC’s 13 states, and on Monday he recommended the Fieldale center as one of 13 projects for the commission to fund.

On Fieldale’s main street, across from the Fieldale Café and next to the former high school, this stately brick building once was the center of community life.

Fieldale Recreation Center plaque

Fieldale Recreation Center plaque

Built as a YMCA but later run independently, it has a gym, large restrooms with showers and rooms that have been used as a beauty parlor, barber shop (the original fixtures are still there), senior center, classrooms and more. The third floor has hardwood floors, solid wood walls and large windows overlooking the village.

Jay Gilbert, the manager of the center’s swimming pools, said when he was growing up his mother once a year would joke that she would pay rent – their membership fee. The family spent most of their free time there, and it was a great place for kids to grow up, with all sorts of activities and under dependable supervision, he said.

“The recreation center has been the center of life for the village,” Nancy Arnold said — to the point that many people even took their daily showers there.

Fieldale Recreation Center barber shop 2

Fieldale Recreation Center barber shop

Arnold is the vice president of the Fieldale Recreation Center and Pools board; Truman Adkins is the president; Jane Eggleston is the secretary; and Susan Harbour is the treasurer.

Most recently, before the pandemic interrupted, rummage sales were held there, and senior citizens played bingo games and met there, Arnold said.

The proposed grant would repair plumbing – pipes in the boiler room had burst – and electricity, install complete heating and air conditioning and put a new floor on the gym.

Fieldale Recreation Center inside gym

Mike Gilley (from left), Nancy Arnold and Jay Gilbert look out over the Fieldale Recreation Center’s gym. If proposed grant funding through the Appalachian Regional Commission comes through, the center would receive money for repairs which would enable it to open back up.

The appeal for funding started a year and a half ago with talks with county representatives and officials, Arnold said. A feasibility study was approved, and Summit Design and Engineering of Richmond conducted the study.

Henry County Grant Administrator Mary Ann Mason wrote the grant proposal, Arnold said.

‘A humongous step’

Fieldale Recreation Center historic district map

Fieldale Recreation Center historic district map

The funding request was submitted to the ARC by December, and the governor recommended that funding “to the federal government and the ARC,” Arnold said.

“Like Mary Ann said, it just has to pass through a lot of desks,” Arnold said. “Normally, they’re approved [once projects are recommended], but we will not know until the first of October for sure.

“This is a big, humungous step for the recreation center.”

She said, “The engineer and design folks in Richmond were absolutely amazed at that over-100-year-old building.” One of them said, “‘They just don’t make them like this anymore.’ They really don’t.”

The features include hardwood floors throughout, brick exterior with majestic pillars, many walls of tile, heavy wooden ceiling in the gym and even wooden backboards behind the basketball hoops.

A bigger plan

Fieldale pool

Mike Gilley (left) and Andrew Kahle get the Fieldale pools ready to open for the season.

Eventually, Gilbert said, the center’s supporters would like to see it open daily as a safe and enjoyable place for people of all ages to gather, play sports and have a range of activities. “There’s a lot of ideas what it could be used for, but the focus is on youth.”

The center, on 3.8 acres at 70 Marshall Way, was acquired by Fieldale Heritage Inc. in 2016 for $73,000, county GIS records show. Arnold said it was bought from the county, which had taken over the property.

“That’s when we started trying to have stuff there,” she said. “We’ve always had the Fieldale Festival on the front lawn, every year, even when the county had it.”

The pandemic prevented that from happening last May and this May, but the committee is considering holding it this fall, she said.

In the meantime, “we’ve been zeroing in opening the pools right now, and getting memberships. That’s such a big deal for us – donations and memberships.” People also can visit the pools by paying daily rates.

The pools will open on May 31. Concerts will be held on the front lawn: 220 South on May 29 and Fatz on June 19, both from 6 to 10 p.m., with $5 admission.

Fieldale Recreation Center basketball game

Guys play basketball outside the Fieldale Recreation Center. If grant funding comes through, a new floor will be put in the gym, and the building repaired, so that games can be played indoors too.

Possible grant for Reynolds

The Reynolds Homestead also stands a chance at ARC funding of $52,000, for a community center serving Critz, a press release from the governor’s office states. That center will be focused on promoting equity and offering activities that include educational and professional development programs, after-school programs, cultural heritage programs, entrepreneurship training, and health and wellness programs.

Established in 1965, the ARC is a federal agency focused on economic development throughout the Appalachian region, the release states. ARC grants are aimed at supporting the goal of building a strong and sustainable asset-based economy by funding projects that serve as catalysts for bringing jobs and prosperity to Appalachian communities while preserving their character.

“ARC funding gives Appalachian communities the flexibility needed to provide targeted assistance in community-identified areas, from improved water systems and community centers to addiction recovery facilities and museums,” stated Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball in the release. “These proposed projects will provide wide-ranging opportunities and further the vital work being done to diversify and strengthen the economy and communities of the region.”

Mason explained the grant process to Arnold and other board members in an email that was shared with the Bulletin: “ARC is an independent federal agency. The Virginia Department of Housing & Community Development (DHCD) is the registered state agency responsible for ARC program administration, fiscal oversight and compliance monitoring. In other words, the federal agency (ARC) makes the final decision of grant awards and then funnels the federal monies to DHCD for administration.”

ARC’s application review process follows two steps, Mason wrote: The first step was the submission of grant applications to DHCD, and the governor’s recommendation, which has been done. Next, the DHCD will contact the chosen applicants (in this case, Henry County) to get any additional information needed and to request completion of required federal forms before their submission to ARC. The final approval, and issuance of grants, would be by Oct. 1.

Holly Kozelsky reports for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at holly.kozelsky@martinsvillebulletin.com and 276-638-8801 ext. 243.

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