DALTON, Ga. -- Elsie Johnson looked on as the long arm of a track hoe tore chunks of brick from the Dalton Community Center.
She recalled working at the center's outside concession stand years ago, watching baseball games and the teenagers cruising the streets.
"It was a big spectacle up here," said Mrs. Johnson. "It was wonderful."
More than 30 people gathered Tuesday morning to see the community center torn down. Plans are to rebuild a much larger center with improved features.
Mrs. Johnson said she'll always hold onto her memories of the original Dalton Community Center. She grew up going to the center and her son, André Johnson, practically lived there, she said.
André died in a 2007 shooting but Mrs. Johnson said if he were alive, "he would be overjoyed" about the new center. She said it will be "a new beginning for everybody" and an opportunity for all members of the community to come together.
City Finance Director Cindy Jackson said the new center will cost $7.3 million. The city will pay for it using fund reserves, grant money and bonds.
City Alderman Charlie Bethel noted that Tuesday's demolition began at the very room where community members first met about two years ago to discuss the center's future.
"The facility itself (was) in poor condition and needed some attention," said Mr. Bethel. "We wanted to do something that would be meaningful, that would really not just be a Band-Aid."
Mr. Bethel said the new center will commemorate the old with displays and bricks saved from the original building.
Dalton Mayor Pennington made rebuilding the community center one of his top priorities and said that, while it was sad to see the historic building torn down, it "will be more emotional when we see this beautiful (new) facility ready to serve this community."
The building will have space for the arts, a library and an area for the health department and the Women, Infants and Children program, he said.
Carlos Prevo recently moved to Dalton from Baton Rouge, La., but already has a sense of what the center's death and rebirth mean in Dalton.
"Even though it's washing away old memories, it's going to bring a lot of new memories in," he said. "It's going to really open up a lot of doors for a lot of young people."