published Saturday, August 13th, 2011

Vandalized rec center re-opens


by Andrew Pantazi
Jarren Carr, 9, left, and Taronta Clayton, 8, play table football in a room that formerly had a wall-size mirror. The Sheila M Jennings Health, Wellness and Fitness Center on Poplar Street is reopening for business after cleaning up damage done by vandals.
Jarren Carr, 9, left, and Taronta Clayton, 8, play table football in a room that formerly had a wall-size mirror. The Sheila M Jennings Health, Wellness and Fitness Center on Poplar Street is reopening for business after cleaning up damage done by vandals.
Photo by Jake Daniels.

Fourth-grader A.J. Boyd takes the ball to the top of the key, goes left, then crosses over to the right.

His opponent, third-grader Marcus Reed, snatches the ball away. Clearly an illegal strip, but that’s not what matters.

The two came to Westside Recreation Center on Friday after Battle Academy’s school day ended. They came to play. But two weeks ago, someone, or multiple someones, took that away when they vandalized the recreation center.

When workers came in on Aug. 1, they found Coca-Cola machines tipped over, the center’s office torn apart, windows broken, mirrors along one wall shattered and a toilet in the men’s bathroom busted.

But workers at the center managed to repair the damage well enough so the center could reopen on Wednesday, the first day of school. For the first week, they worked without air conditioning because wires were torn during the vandalism.

Solomon McGee, who oversees the after-school program at the center, said some of the repair work actually helped take care of some jobs that hadn’t been gotten around to in the past. For example, the staff had been meaning to take down the mirrors even before they were smashed.

The only thing left to do is paint some walls, officials said.

Trina DeSouza, property manager with the Chattanooga Housing Authority, which helps fund the center, said the cost of repairs should be about $4,000.

But the center is fixed enough that kids and adults still come to play basketball, jump rope and hang out. And on Friday, a first-grader came up to McGee with a rather-odd request.

“Can I do some homework?” the boy asked.

“Of course,” McGee said.

“I’m trying to teach them how to think,” he added.

about Andrew Pantazi...

Andrew Pantazi is an intern at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who says that when he was 7 he knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life: play hockey for the Colorado Avalanche. Unfortunately, he says he wasn't any good at hockey, so he became a journalist instead. He writes about the lives we hide, like the man who suffered a stroke but smiled, or the football walk-on who endured 5 ...

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