Reserve swap is good policy

Published 9:20 pm Thursday, April 9, 2015

By the end of the month, officials expect construction to begin at a site on Carolina Road for a new facility for the U.S. Army Reserve. That’s great news for folks in the Bennett’s Creek area, and it represents the continuation of a smart policy by Suffolk City Council.

What connects the new Army Reserve complex, which officials expect to be complete sometime in 2016, with the people in Bennett’s Creek is the current facility on Bennetts Creek Park Road. When the new complex is finished, the Army Reserve will move to Carolina Road, and the 12-acre 1LT Richard T. Shea U.S. Army Reserve Center, located next to Creekside Elementary School, will be turned over to the city of Suffolk.

That’s good news for Bennett’s Creek, because once the Army Reserve moves, plans call for the existing building to be renovated and repurposed as a recreation center, which would make it the third standalone public recreation center in the city. The center would likely include group exercise and community spaces, along with other health and fitness facilities.

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What’s especially good about the plan is that it means Suffolk will be providing an important new service to a community that needs it and will save a substantial amount of money in the process. It’s a model that has worked well with the East Suffolk Recreation Center and the new Whaleyville Community Center, both of which were crafted from the remains of old schools no longer in use by the Suffolk Public School system.

To be sure, there were still investments to make in renovations, repairs and equipment before those facilities could be opened, and the same will surely be true in Bennett’s Creek. But in each of the previous cases, Suffolk wound up with facilities that were far more valuable than their cost suggests. Again, the same will surely be true in Bennett’s Creek.

Suffolk officials should be congratulated for their foresight in making use of these old properties as public amenities, rather than just bulldozing them and using them to entice developers. The city’s admirable effort to repurpose these properties for use by citizens shows a refreshing regard for the past, the present and the future.