More than 500 people crowded into the new Dalton Community Center on Fredrick Street on Monday to celebrate its opening. And Bishop Stephen Thomas of Community Fellowship Church said it was fitting the event happened as the nation celebrated the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
“Look how far we have come as a community, as a city, as a people working together. This has to be a function of what Dr. King dreamed about. It is a fact that when we work together we can accomplish great things,” Thomas said.
The center was dedicated to long-time community resident Mack Gaston, the lead builder in the construction of the first community center building in the 1960s.
“He was a true believer in recreation, and he was a true leader in the city of Dalton,” Thomas said.
The theme of the event was “Proud of our past, excited about our future.”
Community Center Director Tom Pinson said the facility had its origin more than 45 years ago when church leaders in the predominately black area came together to provide recreational opportunities for young people on the east side of Dalton.
The property the old Community Center sat on was still owned by the Concerned Clergy of Greater Whitfield County until 2008. That’s when the City Council and the Parks and Recreation Commission were making plans to rebuild the community center. But they could not spend money on the project unless the city owned the property, so the Concerned Clergy donated the property to the city.
“We had to ask them to trust us that we would follow through on what we promised,” said Mayor David Pennington.
The result is a $4.38 million, 50,000-square-foot building.
Parks and Recreation Department Director Steve Card outlined many of the amenities the building has: meeting rooms with state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment, Wi-Fi, a computer lab, an exercise room/dance studio, two full-size basketball courts, an indoor walking track and weight room.
Card also noted that when the outdoor facilities are completed this spring, the center will have a pavilion, a football/soccer field, a playground, a splashpad and an outdoor basketball court. All of those facilities, both inside and outside, are free and open to the public.
Several in attendance said the building was everything they’d hoped it would be when they first heard the city was going to tear down and rebuild the community center.
“This is very nice. It looks great, and it has everything you could ask for,” said Dalton’s Fred Reynolds.
But Card said it isn’t just the grounds and building that make the community center special. He said it’s the partnerships the city has built with other organizations and the programs they will offer there for children and adults.
“The library has a satellite program here. The Creative Arts Guild will be offering programs here. And let’s not forget about Dalton State College, the school system, the police department and the fire department. These are just a few of the partnerships we have built, and we look forward to building many more,” Card said.
The community center also hosts an office of the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which provides nutrition and counseling services to expectant mothers and mothers with small children to help get those young people on the right path.
And city officials hope to open a health clinic in the community center, a promise that was greeted by loud applause when mentioned by Pennington.
Card said the center has the potential to be an economic engine for not only the east side of Dalton but the Greater Dalton area as a whole.
“As we program tournaments in here, and as we program activities in here that will bring in people from outside the community, understand what will happen. That will put people in our hotel rooms. That will bring people to eat at our restaurants and shop in our stores,” he said.
The community center is open Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The center is closed on Sundays. For more information, call the center at (706) 278-8205.
The center will host a senior health fair on Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The health fair is presented by Cross Plains Community Partner.
The center will also host the Erwin Mitchell Community Health Fair on Saturday, Feb. 11, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. That fair is presented by the Northwest Georgia Healthcare Partnership.