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Dilapidated rec center waits for attention

The game room at the Stirling Recreation Center is almost always bustling. Children play video games, shoot pool and talk to the adults who keep watch.

But a closer look shows that the building has seen better days. The walls are marred with stair-step cracks. Ceiling tiles have fallen or are stained brown from heavy rains or are patched together with duct tape.

Betty Haynes, Stirling's program director, calls the building "dangerous."

"We just feel the kids in this neighborhood deserve more," she said.

City leaders agree. The question is when they can fix it.

Last week commissioners considered spending $20,000 to repair the roof. But the vote never happened because some felt spending the money would make little sense because the building should be torn down and replaced.

"I know we need a new roof," Commissioner Cecil Englebert said at last week's commission meeting. "But sooner or later we will need to replace the building, and it seems to me that would be wasting money."

Although everyone readily admits the building should go, no one can say when that will happen.

"It's one of those ongoing sagas where we are trying to identify what is going on with that building before we take the next step," said Doug Hutchens, Dunedin's assistant public works director.

The Stirling Center was built atop clay. As the building has settled, the walls have cracked. Cracks were first noticed in 1993. The city has the building checked every three months to ensure it's still safe.

But some say the city isn't doing enough, especially because it has been quick to spend money on other projects.

Since 1997 the city spent $500,000 in grants to landscape parts of downtown and add parking spaces. The city also agreed earlier this year to spend $12-million to renovate the spring-training facility of the Toronto Blue Jays.

And then there's the new, $1.2-million senior citizens center the city is building on Douglas Avenue.

"If they can find the money to build a stadium for the Blue Jays, then they can find the money to rebuild (Stirling)," said William Brown,. "The kids love it, so they had better get to work on rebuilding it."

City Manager John Lawrence said he hopes the Stirling Center will be replaced sooner rather than later.

"Our biggest hope is to bump it up the schedule and get a state grant to help pay for the work," he said.

Meanwhile, the city had budgeted $80,000 in repairs. But even that appears to be on hold.

"The building is not going to get any better," said Keith Fogarty, director of maintenance for the city.

Mayor Tom Anderson suggested at last week's meeting that the city take as much as $1-million out of its cash reserves to build a new facility. That and other ideas will be studied, and commissioners will discuss them at their Nov. 29 meeting.