Commission buys land for gymnasium on east side of county
By Michael Wetzel
For the Enquirer
The Morgan County Commission has decided to use part of its money from a legal settlement with 3M to build a gymnasium in Cotaco that the commission chairman said could be ready for use sometime in 2023.
Commissioners voted during their meeting Feb. 8 to purchase 22.68 acres at the corner of Luker Road and Union Hill Road in the eastern part of the county from Betty Gail Drinkard and Wilma Jo Clifton for $185,000.
District 4 Commissioner Greg Abercrombie said the site of the new gym will be across the road from the district shop.
Commission Chairman Ray Long said the new gym project “will be strictly money from 3M. This (gym project) would have been 10 years down the road from planning if it wasn’t for the 3M money.
“I figure it will be at least this time next year before we can get it open. That’s my goal.”
Long said weather, labor shortage, COVID-19 and other factors could slow things down – issues that “we don’t have control over. We’ll make plans and let the chips fall where they fall.
“From this end, we’re going to be pushing to get something done,” Long added. “It could be a year, 1.5 years. We’ll work as quickly as government allows us to work.”
3M Co., which has a facility along the Tennessee River in Decatur, agreed to a $98.4 million settlement with Decatur, Morgan County and Decatur Utilities for the company’s past disposal of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The settlement, finalized in November, includes $5.4 million for the county to use on projects “that support and promote community development and recreation.”
Long said money also will be spent for a gymnasium under construction at West Park in the Danville-Neel community and for improvements to baseball and softball field complexes at North Park in Priceville and South Park in Falkville.
“The money is going somewhere that will be useful,” Long said. “These parks and gyms will be there for years to come. They’ll be there forever. It’s an investment in our county. Our job is to make things better for our citizens.”
Randy Vest, District 2 commissioner, said $1.9 million of the 3M money is set aside for completing the construction of the West Park gym. Daikin America of Decatur gave $160,000 for that project.
The county broke ground on the West Park facility in August, and Vest said he anticipates it to open in September, barring any delays from supply chain issues or COVID-19.
The original price tag for the 10,500-square-foot gym there was $1.2 million, but the rising cost of materials and labor has it approaching $2 million. Long said he projects the Cotaco gym to have a similar price tag.
He said the remaining 3M money will go toward adding fields and improving concession stands and restrooms at North Park and South Park, which is already underway.
“3M asked that the money be used for projects the entire county can enjoy and benefit from,” Long said.
Abercrombie called the location of the planned gym “perfect” for residents of the Cotaco, Union Hill and Lacey’s Spring communities.
“It’s a good central location where it will be easy to reach from these communities,” he said. “I’d love to see us get a double gym that has two courts where two games could be going on simultaneously.”
He said he hopes ground will be broken on the Cotaco project in 2022 but said “it is too early” to say when it might be completed.
“Hopefully by late spring, we might have some idea of what kind of center we’ll have,” he said. “Because of labor and material shortage, everything is backed up when you are trying to build. That’s the problem. You think you will start something in three months, and in reality, it might be a year and three months. We’re out of the norm doing things with COVID.”
Long said the commission and park officials had discussions about a gym for the Cotaco area, “but funding has always been an issue,” he said. “When this money from 3M came, it was like free money. Our goal was to find land and do something for the east side of the county.”
Abercrombie said a couple of rundown houses are located on the purchased acreage. He said his district workers will demolish the structures once the county has the deed to the property.
Morgan County Parks and Recreation director Sean Dailey said the Cotaco gymnasium will allow for programming similar to West Park’s.
“We’ll have some of the same programs, mainly youth basketball, and multiple sports, such as badminton, volleyball, pickleball,” Dailey said. “We’ll be open to holding travel volleyball and basketball events there. We’ll listen to the communities for ideas of what they might want. It will be available for rental, too.”
Dailey said the 3M settlement money “fast forwarded a lot of the visions we’ve had for the county parks system.”
This will benefit more than just the quality of life of the east side of the county, he added.
“After education, recreation is pretty high when developers look at where they should build, where people would want to live,” he said. “They’ll want
to know what recreation facilities are available. That can be a big selling point to locating in a certain area. It’ll be a boon for that entire region.”
Long said the two new gyms will likely require the county to employ three to five more workers.