A car crashed into one of Chattanooga's youth and family development centers Friday, after community leaders had warned that exact thing would happen.
Less than a year ago, Chattanooga opened a new, state-of-the-art center in the Avondale neighborhood. The $10 million project was designed to offer a better facility, more activities and access to resources to the community, and was the first overhaul of its kind within the city.
While many described the project as a "dream" coming true for the neighborhood after 70 years in the previous facility, some community leaders and elected officials warned that the facility's location, just feet off of the roadway at the busy intersection of Wilcox Boulevard and Dodson Avenue, might put visitors at risk.
Those fears were realized Friday, just seven months after the project opened.
Late Friday afternoon, an unidentified drunk driver in a stolen vehicle collided with another vehicle and then crashed into the front of the Avondale YFD center, according to Chattanooga Police Department spokesman Sgt. Jeremy Eames.
While the center was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and no injuries were reported, the crash involved a local mother and child and highlighted the concerns many leaders had voiced before the center was built.
'Told them so'
Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey, among other elected officials and community leaders who served on the advisory board for the project, warned city officials that the traffic at the intersection might create dangers for center visitors before ground broke on the facility.
"One major issue that the board brought to those building the facility had to do with traffic. We told them that the facility was being built too close to that busy corner at Wilcox and Dodson," Mackey wrote Saturday in an email to Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and other city officials who oversaw the project. "We placed emphasis on the fact that kids risked being run over trying to cross that busy intersection as they went back and forth."
According to Mackey, the board asked the city to create a barrier on the edge of the property and to consider the children who would be waiting for school buses at the facility, to prevent such an incident.
"Yes, we got them to do a traffic study but nothing came of it. So at this point I hate to say that we told them so but we told them," he wrote.
"The worst fears of the Avondale Family and Youth Development Center's Advisory Board has been realized — a mother and her son were hit by a car as it crashed into the building."
The mother and son involved were in a second vehicle, police said.
Mackey said the incident highlights the need for the "powers that be" to listen to black voices on community issues.
"So in the future I hope that elected officials remember that not only does Black Lives Matter but So Does Black Opinions Matter," he wrote. "As the future unfolds I ask the black community to hold elected leaders accountable including me. There are elections coming up. When people come before you asking for your vote, look for accountability."
Similarly, social justice nonprofit organization the Unity Group is calling for a safety study of the facility.
"This incident reminds us of the concerns that were raised throughout the community about the wisdom of placing a recreational center so close to the intersection of a well traveled thoroughfare. There were similar misgivings given about the specific architectural layout of the building, which included pedestrian traffic, adequate and sufficient staffing, concrete bleachers, the size of the gymnasium, and whether the locker rooms could be properly monitored," Chairman Sherman Matthews said in a Friday statement.
"In lieu of this incident, we would hope that the safety and security precautions of the Avondale Rec Center are immediately reviewed, and that all the proper mechanisms and enhancements that would aide and assist this objective be implemented without further delay."
In response to the incident and related feedback, Chattanooga Chief Operating Officer Maura Sullivan says the city will look at further research and safety measures.
"Resident safety is our top priority. The City held several meetings with Avondale staff and steering committee members prior to project completion. From those discussions CDOT deployed a study of what a road diet in that area would look like," Sullivan wrote late Sunday.
"While the study showed a road diet in this area would work there were other factors such as significant increases during peak travel times that were seen as unfavorable by the community. After that feedback we determined to hold off on re-striping the road. However, given the incident that happened over the weekend we are happy to look into implementing safety measures and the road diet."
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at email@example.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor