Michelle Mulvehill (with scissors in middle) at a ribbon cutting for Tribble Park on May 31, 2023
Michelle Mulvehill (with scissors in middle) at a ribbon cutting for Tribble Park on May 31, 2023

Can basketball, bingo coexist at a Windsor Forest Community Center?

Heated May 1 meeting included residents and city, county officials

If there were any questions about how seriously the City of Savannah is taking the decision of where to locate the new Windsor Forest Community Center, and the dedication of those making that decision to listen to the residents of the community, they only need to look at who attended the community meeting hosted by the City of Savannah on Wednesday.

The room at the Windsor Forest Golden Age Center was packed, people were standing in the halls, and the meeting was live streamed on Alderman Kurtis Purtee’s Facebook page. The Facebook video of the meeting was viewed more than 1.2K times within 24 hours of the live stream.

Mayor Van Johnson, along with six of the eight members of Savannah City Council, attended the meeting (Alderman Kurtis Purtee, whose district will house the new community center, along with Alicia Miller Blakely, At-Large; Detric Leggett, District 2; Linda Wilder-Bryan, District 3; Nick Palumbo, District 4; and Dr. Estella Edwards Shabazz, District 5).

Also in attendance was County Commissioner Aaron "Adot" Whitely, District 6.

click to enlarge Can basketball, bingo coexist at a Windsor Forest Community Center?
May 1 meeting regarding Windsor Forest Community Center

In addition to elected officials, Jay Melder, Savannah City Manager, and all of the city divisional leadership staff were in attendance to field questions and address concerns from the community.

Melder began the meeting and was the primary presenter for the city.

“I believe firmly that the quality of the amenities that we have in the community, especially city built, city managed, city operated facilities, is a reflection of the city’s value of that neighborhood.”

Melder continued with a 20-minute presentation and slideshow explaining the site selection criteria and the three sites being considered. All three sites are owned by the city of Savannah - Joseph J. Tribble Park (55 acres), LaVida property (1.96 acres), Woody’s Skate Park property (1.63 acres). Melder explained that the Tribble Park site checks more boxes on the site selection matrix (see slideshow below) versus the other two options.

The slideshow from Jay Melder's May 1 presentation to start the Windsor Forest Community Center Meeting

In an April 25 email responding to questions from Carol Williamson, administrator of a prominent Windsor Forest Facebook group, Melder said:

“Alderman Purtee, Mayor Johnson, and the City Council have budgeted and approved $8.9 million for the development of a new Windsor Forest Regional Community Center. This action represents the most significant community investment on the Southside in the city’s history and a major win for Windsor Forest residents. I, for one, am very excited to be a part of this project.”

While the meeting was only supposed to last one hour, Melder stayed and answered questions for nearly two hours after his presentation. Comments from community members ranged from people not wanting a basketball gym at the new community center, to wanting to make sure that the new facility could house programs for both the senior citizens and youth of Windsor Forest.

Some members of the community do not want a community center in Windsor Forest, others want there to be two sites (one for seniors, and a different location for teens); some like the Tribble Park site, while others strongly oppose that location, yet others want a location other than the current three being researched.

click to enlarge Can basketball, bingo coexist at a Windsor Forest Community Center?

Mayor Van Johnson assured the crowd that no decisions have been made regarding the site.

“If we weren’t interested in your input, we wouldn’t be here. Because of Alderman Purtee’s leadership and advocacy, and because of the support of this Council, the largest investment of $9 million is here," Johnson said.

"We can disagree. We will work it out, and in the end, we will have something that we will all be able to live with. Ultimately no matter what site we come up with, these (three currently being researched) or something else, everyone’s not going to be happy, but at the end of the day, let’s go with something that we can all live with because you deserve that, your tax payer dollars coming back to you in big ways like it has for the rest of the city.”

The majority of the community members who spoke at the May 1 meeting are opposed to the new Windsor Forest Community Center being built at Tribble Park.

The Facebook responses after the May 1 meeting came in fast and furious.

Windsor Forest resident Barbara Pearson said that the meeting was “a sham”; but homeowner Karen Harmon disagreed, “Not everyone felt it was a sham. There was one demographic largely represented, and obviously opposed to what the city was proposing, so that perspective was very loud.”

Harmon said of the meeting: “I am a new resident to Windsor, so I went to get information. I think like anything else there are pros and cons. It seems that many are just opposed to everything proposed and are not hearing the other side.”

One Windsor Forest resident posted on Facebook, “Why is it so important to build a GYMNASIUM????”

click to enlarge Can basketball, bingo coexist at a Windsor Forest Community Center?
Evelyn Mulvehill at Tribble Park

Michelle Mulvehill chose not to attend or watch the meeting. “I did not watch the meeting from last night because I knew exactly what it would be," she said.

"I knew it would anger me and I was busy gardening for a neighbor. I was demonstrating the true meaning of community and love. I knew that the people at that meeting would not be.”

Mulvehill, the mother of two girls, ages 10 and four, was instrumental in the reopening of Tribble Park last year.

“I love Tribble Park and we visit there often. I don't want more concrete, large buildings and increased traffic. I would like bathrooms and a sun shade over the playground," she said. "I do think it will impact wildlife on the two year construction schedule. Also, they will close the park for the majority of that time even if they say they won't, we will not have access to the playground while Evelyn is still young enough to be interested in it. So, the short answer is purely self-centered. I am not opposed to a community center, but not in that location.”

The Windsor Forest Community Center project continues now into the site selection evaluation phase; more community meetings will be held and citizen groups consulted before City Manager Jay Melder makes a recommendation to the Mayor and City Council for a vote.

Alderman Kurtis Purtee will be hosting a Facebook Live virtual meeting tonight, Friday, May 3 at 6:30 p.m. - all are welcome to join the conversation.

What others are saying ...

Alderman Kurtis Purtee, District 6

I am excited to work with our community to develop this new community center in Windsor Forest to replace the existing building currently leased from the SCCPSS. Through community engagement, we have learned that all ages and all walks of life are interested in programs that will uplift members of our community through recreation and resources. For the first time, the Southside will see an initial $9 million allocated to the development of a state-of-the-art community center for all ages.

With more development of downtown and areas around it, families have moved south and east of downtown creating more households in our area. We have seen a shift of younger families in our neighborhoods from all walks of life. I would argue that we have the most diverse community in the city. People that live on the Southside do so because they want a place that’s affordable for them to raise a family. As our generation of families have aged in place, we see a rise of engagement at our Golden Age Center.

click to enlarge Can basketball, bingo coexist at a Windsor Forest Community Center?
Alderman Kurtis Purtee

I can envision a community center where seniors can mentor teens while teens can provide community service and learn from our seniors. Stories of rich history can be passed down to future generations. We are trying to create synergy among our generations so that families, seniors, and youth can learn from each other and find recreation that each person values and enjoys. Programs like dancing, bingo, sewing, knitting, and a variety of other activities can be shared between seniors and youth.

Seniors can teach youth valuable skills in life which in turn they can teach to others. A really neat program would consist of seniors teaching youth knitting and the youth then knitting items for seniors or others. The possibilities are endless.

County Commissioner "Adot" Whitely, District 6

The 6th district has long been underserved when it comes to access to community centers and indoor recreational facilities. I applaud the City of Savannah’s investment into the southside. I understand the nuances associated with site selection for capital projects, so I appreciate city officials taking the time to hear directly from Windsor Forest residents. I support the placement of community facilities anywhere in the 6th district, especially if the neighborhood supports it. I hope to build Chatham County’s SPLOST 7 Regional Athletic Center in the 6th district at the Southchase location for a number of reasons.

I am committed to ensuring our residents, especially our youth, have more spaces for community engagement. I believe the Southside is also deserving of a state-of-the-art recreation facility that could serve as an economic stimulus for the area. I have asked our Chairman to place an item on our next meeting’s agenda to allow the commission to select a location for the Regional Athletic Facility. I encourage all residents of the 6th district who are interested in this project to reach out to the members of the commission and voice their support. Together, we can make sure this vital resource becomes a reality for the 6th and for Chatham County.

Lizzie Daiss, Windsor Forest homeowner since 2018, mother of three (ages 14, two, five months)

I've attended the meeting at Tribble the weekend of Easter and have been in communication with the Alderman as well as Carol Williamson. I also run Windsor Forest Mamas, a Facebook mom group in our neighborhood.

click to enlarge Can basketball, bingo coexist at a Windsor Forest Community Center?
Lizzie Daiss with two of her children - picks up litter while walking in her Windsor Forest community

I have noticed over the last 6 years that I have lived here that the neighborhood is changing to accommodate business owners and families who are in the age range of 20-45. The needs and interests of this demographic require changes in the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, there hasn't been an effective way to have community input about this topic yet. A big issue is most people on Facebook are receiving information second or even third hand and aren't getting unbiased information.

Online there's private Facebook groups having different conversations, opinions and rants but there isn't a consensus other than: the neighborhood wants places to get together and have community as well as access to greenspace, outdoor recreation and nature. Also, more sidewalks. That's something everyone can agree on.

This neighborhood is unique in its design and architecture. I believe that the city can see the potential of this neighborhood being highly desirable as the city grows with all the new jobs coming soon and that is why they are investing so much money into this project.

Personally, I welcome change to Tribble regardless of the community center location. Currently it's too isolated and dangerous for moms alone with their kids. There's no one around to ask for help if needed. There are also updates that are needed currently to it to make it more functional for the community and not an afterthought.

As for the community center, some of the concerns have been about safety and crime in relation to who an indoor basketball gym would attract, and I really disagree.

I've visited PARC and seen how it's in a mixed income neighborhood and it's in amazing shape. It opened in 2018 and looks fantastic. It's always staffed and there is security as well as easy ability to lock doors. I believe that our neighborhood who have a diverse population would drastically benefit from it, particularly youth in the summer months when they aren't in school and seniors because of the extensive programs available.

I think the city should make more of an effort in integrating input of the residents, not just those on Facebook, as well as hearing the needs of those in opposition to building at Tribble to get to a compromise or at least understanding.

Ryan Cummings, Windsor Forest resident - certified Wildlife Biologist, Environmental Science

We are extremely against the Tribble Park location. Unknown to most, Tribble Park is home to some very uncommon bird species that we are very lucky to even have there. The big open green space where they plan on doing the construction is vital to the Blue Bird population along with Purple Martins and bat species. Any long-term construction will most definitely affect these and many other wildlife species in and around Tribble Park and the lake itself.

I have in the past worked with Fish and Game, DNR, and the Forestry Service, and am well aware of the difficulties involved with dealing with government officials who already seem to have their mind made up. I’m getting a familiar feeling that someone besides the community is benefiting from this plan, i.e. other government officials, construction companies, etc. Not a good feeling.

Kristy Edenfield

Freelance Correspondent
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