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Many in Macon excited about rec center prospects

After visiting the Town of Waynesville’s recreation center, Michelle Green left marveling at the range and quality of activities the facility provides Haywood County residents.

Swimming, racquetball, basketball courts, an indoor walking track and more — there’s simply not a public facility like it available in Green’s home county of Macon.

With a nearly 7-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old nephew to think about, Green said she strongly supports Macon County’s push to build its own recreation center, which county officials want to model on the one operated by Waynesville.

“It is so elaborate and nice,” Green, who lives in Franklin, said. “I’d just as soon see my tax dollars go to that as to anything else.”

She’s not alone. Mill Shoal Township resident Brandy Clouse, who works with Green at a local bank in Franklin and belongs to a private fitness center, also wants the new facility built. Clouse said she believes that Macon County is large enough to support both public and private recreation facilities.

County officials are banking on this kind of enthusiasm to fund the new building and improve recreation parks throughout the county for the 32,395 residents who live there. In November, voters in Macon County will face an array of bond choices, including one for $9.4 million that would pay for the recreation upgrades.

Also on the ballot, in separate yes or no votes, will be:

• A $42.1 million bond for capital improvements for the schools.

• A $6.5 million bond for fixing up public buildings.

• A $3 million bond for a new Southwestern Community College building.

• A $3 million bond to improve Highlands’ library facility.

The recreation center alone would cost roughly $6 million, said Seth Adams, who oversees recreation in the Franklin area for Macon County.

Plans call for the 63,000-square-foot facility to be built across from the new Macon County Public Library, located on Siler Road just south of Franklin where SCC sited its new Macon County campus.

Unlike the recreation facility in Waynesville, Macon County’s version wouldn’t contain meeting room space but instead would boast full-sized basketball courts. It also would have two racquetball courts, two pools and an indoor walking track, Adams said.

The recreation director said Macon, which saw its population grow by 8.7 percent from April 2000 through July 2006, needs to keep pace with the growth.

“There are other areas that aren’t as populated as us, but that have excellent facilities,” he said.

Cherokee, for instance, has a tribally owned and operated fitness center available for free to its 13,500 tribal members, with only 8,000 to 9,000 calling the Qualla Boundary home.

Adams said that he thinks the recreation center would be girded financially through affordably priced memberships. He said at least two full-time employees would be needed, plus numerous part-timers. A newly formed countywide recreation committee will decide on additional details if the bond is approved, including who would oversee the center and exactly how it would be managed, Adams said.

Currently, Macon residents’ public recreation opportunities are limited to outside parks scattered throughout the county. There is an outdoor pool in Franklin, plus numerous fields for baseball/soccer and outdoor basketball/tennis courts.

“I think we need something more for our young people,” said Virginia Wilson, who lives in the Otto community. “I would be in favor (of the bond referendum).”

Brandon Wilkinson, who moved to Macon County’s Clarks Chapel community from Utah, agreed. He said he sees a definite need for better and larger recreation facilities.

“We need something new,” he said.

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