Buice column: Community center gains spotlight

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 3, 2022

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Long after Clemmons was incorporated in 1986, the town put together a Comprehensive Plan that addressed the concept about community character and a village center.

This goes all the way back to 2010, and here’s what was stated:

“At present, Clemmons lacks two assets enjoyed by many communities — a strong sense of place and a traditional pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use civic center. The concept of a Village Center is intended to help remedy both issues. The thinking about the specific location of the Village Center evolved during development of the plan.

“The final recommendation is to develop a future Village Center at the Village Point/Novant area north of I-40 because of its central location in the community, potential for public-private partnership and access to I-40.”

The idea of a community center has been always been a goal, but the sobering reality centers on the cost of such a large tract of land in a suitable location along with the exorbitant expense to build such a facility.

Fast forward to last week’s village council meeting when Sandi Scannelli, president and CEO of the Shallow Ford Foundation (formerly the Clemmons Community Foundation, introduced the idea of a public-private partnership — see those words above — and if the council would be willing to provide “intent” and “unanimous enthusiasm” for exploring the possibilities.

Hey, it makes perfect sense. Who wouldn’t want a community center?

In covering the council for more than a decade, I’ve heard many speak on the topic. One of the best was Casey Matuszak, who went on a rant during a 2015 meeting when he was speaking in support of the new library, which finally opened in June 2021.

“We have a chance to do something,” said Matuszak, who later became a member of the Planning Board. “When you think about Kernersville, you say, hey, the Korner’s Folly. You think of a city that has soul and heart. You say, Mocksville, you think of the square. Even Lewisville, you’ve got a park. You’ve got a city that builds around something.

“What do we have? Kmart, Dairi-O, Froggies and, of course, Krispy Kreme. We have to have something that when we say Clemmons we think of something that is good. When we say I am from Clemmons, aren’t you the city that has that great community center. Not just a library. A city hall. A park. We have nothing.

“A historical district bound by one school, which is historical in a sense. But on the other side by an outdated post office, Walgreens, a lawnmower shop and Walmart. Gosh, is that great?

“We have to think not about now, not about ourselves. We have to think about our future. If we build a good library and a community center, people will come. People will come to Clemmons because they want to have a community, a community where there’s heart and soul.”

Sounds like he was indeed taking a chapter out of the original Clemmons Comprehensive Plan.

It’s not too late but certainly more difficult after dealing with a global pandemic for nearly two years and all the pressing needs of a town that now has more than 20,000 residents — not to mention where such a community center would go.

There are few parcels available (anything left at Village Point?), and depending on the size and scope of what’s considered, it’s not going to be cheap.

Like Clemmons council member Chris Wrights said in the most recent meeting, he would embrace having a community center, but “unfortunately, Clemmons does not have the luxury that Lewisville has — for some reason of property owners just donating large chunks of land left and right.”

Of course, he is referring to the neighboring town’s recent addition of a new community center named after Lewisville resident Mary Alice Warren, who grew up on the property and donated the 15-acre site for the facility located off of Lewisville-Clemmons Road next to Jack Warren Park. She also donated the adjoining land for the 15-acre multi-use park.

These additions in the last 10-plus years followed Shallowford Square, a terraced amphitheater and park that came along to serve as the centerpiece of the downtown area in the years after the town was incorporated in 1991.

So Clemmons certainly has challenges ahead — particularly with getting off to such a tardy start — to make something happen. But maybe this public-private partnership, with the right leadership and commitment, will finally make a dream come true after all these years.