Clean Energy Summer Camp At The Rogers Road Community Center

There are big doings these days at the Rogers Road Community Center. Barely a year into the existence of its brand spanking new building, and run on a shoestring, the center ran a successful, free 5-week summer enrichment program for 57 neighborhood kids this summer. The kids got to experience activities like a bike rodeo led by local police, a workshop on animal care from staff at the Animal Shelter just around the corner on Eubanks Road, a workshop on building a rain garden with materials from Friends of Bolin Creek, camping classes teaching skills like pitching tents and navigating with a compass, dance and music workshops, a dental workshop from Dr. Lenise Clifton, and a solar power workshop with Solarize Orange County program founder Rob Pinder. As of this writing (mid-September), the community center is about to start back up its free afterschool enrichment program, complete with a computer lab, bookroom, a tutoring program, and a weekend gardening program led by UNC student volunteers.

The Rogers-Eubanks community is a historically African-American working class community which has existed in that spot since the 19th century. In recent years it has expanded to include a sizable presence of both Latino immigrants and Karen immigrants from Burma. I went by recently to talk with David Caldwell, a lifelong Rogers Road community activist and retired law enforcement officer, whose chief activity these days is helping to run the community center (along with Rose Caldwell and Minister Robert Campbell). I live near the Rogers-Eubanks community, and my interest had been piqued when I heard about their current efforts to raise money for materials for a weeklong clean energy summer camp for the kids next year (more on that below).

Mr. Caldwell articulated a clear vision for his community, a vision into which renewable energy fits very well. His community has historically been neglected and dumped on by the powers that be – literally, as the Orange County landfill was sited right next door in 1972, with a host of resulting ill effects such as soil and groundwater contamination. Efforts are finally being made to fulfill promises made long ago for city water, sewer, and a community center. A veteran of the struggle to get those promises fulfilled, Mr. Caldwell talked about his hopes for his community going forward.

The theme he emphasized the most was building self-sufficiency. He noted in past emergencies, when the power has gone out, the community has had to wait longer than many other neighborhoods for service to return. So he wants the community to be prepared. Renewable energy is part of that. So is the community garden. This past summer the older kids put up a solar-powered light at the community garden. Next summer, if they raise enough money, maybe the kids will install solar-powered lights all around the garden!

At the same time, recognizing that solar power is providing good, sustainable local jobs in Orange County, the camp can educate the kids in how the technology works. The kids were really excited about this past summer’s solar workshop – the younger ones built solar ovens and everyone got to examine a solar water pump and a solar wagon. Next summer, they’d like to expand it to four days and learn and build even more.

I asked Mr. Caldwell what the community center needs, and he replied that there’s a long list! Funding is not easy to come by, but here’s one simple thing we can all help with to educate kids, excite them, and prepare them for a more locally sustainable future. Thanks in advance, readers, for doing your part.

Please help purchase materials for the Clean Energy Summer Camp, if you can! The fundraising campaign is here. Or you can write a check to the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association (RENA), noting on the memo line that it is meant for the Solar Summer Camp, and send it to: RENA, POB 16903, Chapel Hill, NC, 27516. If you’ve got any questions, you are welcome to contact the community center at 919-918-2822.

Public Invited to Rogers Road Community Center Ribbon Cutting

A long-awaited ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Rogers Road Community Center in Chapel Hill will finally take place Saturday morning.

Members of the Rogers Road Community Association will be there, liley joined by members of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, representatives from Habitat for Humanity, and elected officials from Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

The ceremony takes place at 9 a.m. at 101 Edgar Drive, just off Eubanks Road.

Citizens are also invited to stay for a Community Celebration, with refreshments and entertainment from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.

The new community center replaces the old one on Purefoy Drive that was closed in 2012 for failing to satisfy safety regulations.

Local Leaders Break Ground on Rogers Road Community Center

The Orange County Commissioners were out in full force, along with other community leaders, to break ground on the Rogers Road Community Center on Thursday.

“Three years ago, I thought this day would never come. But I’m very happy that it has.”

That’s Orange County Interim Manager Michael Talbert, speaking from behind the podium, as he opened the ceremony for the Rogers Road Community Center on Edgar Street.

All of the Commissioners were present, as well as Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, and a few members of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen.

They were there, along with leaders and members of the Rogers Road community, to celebrate the start of construction for the 4,000-square-foot facility.

Actually, construction work has already begun. Riggs-Harrod Builders has cleared the site, and utility work is next.

When the building is completed by late fall (if projections are correct), it will include a basketball court, as well as a multi-purpose space – ideal for dances, classes, book group meetings and pot luck dinners.

And it will replace the aging facility that was used as a community center on Purefoy Drive until it was shut down in 2012 for failing to meet safety codes.

Commissioner Renee Price spoke at Thursday’s event about the day she heard that news.

“It was shattering,” said Price. “You know, I couldn’t believe it when I heard the words that the Community Center was closed. But, immediately, people said we’re not going to let this happen. It’s going to continue.

“And it did. We persevered, and it happened.”

Two years may seem like a long time to get to the point where dirt is being moved for a building project.

But in government terms, as Commissioner Barry Jacobs pointed out, it’s relatively quick.

The new community center is the product of cooperation between Orange, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. And there’s more.

Credit went to the Task Force first appointed by Commissioners in 2012; as well as Habitat for Humanity, which owns the land, and has granted a 20-year lease with renewable options.

Architect Patric LeBeau of Durham firm Perkins + Will worked for free as the leading designer.

And much credit went to Rogers Road Community leaders Minister Robert Campbell and David Caldwell. The latter is set for an election runoff with Charles Blackwood for Orange County Sheriff.

Campbell and Caldwell have been at the forefront of a battle to fulfill a 40-year-old promise to provide the center to a community that got saddled with a hazardous landfill for all those years.

In his remarks, Caldwell recalled a conversation he had a few months ago with Campbell during Snowpocalypse 2014.

“We were out helping people shovel sidewalks and porches and everything,” said Caldwell. “And there were families walking around. We said, ‘Couldn’t you just see us with the kids riding sleds down the street? Hot chocolate out on the patio? Families sitting around talking? Because there are so many different families walking with nothing to do.

“That’s what we missed when we lost our building. But it’s back.”

Local Leaders Make Progress On Rogers Road Remediation Plan

CHAPEL HILL- The Rogers Road remediation plan has been in the works for nearly two years, but recently Chapel Hill and Orange County each took steps to move the plan forward.

On Tuesday night, Orange County Commissioners unanimously signed off on an operating agreement for the yet-to-be-built Rogers Road Community Center.

Once completed, the facility will be operated by the Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association, or RENA. Minister Robert Campbell is the president of RENA. He told the board this is an important step forward for the neighborhood.

“We have an opportunity to bring our community into the future,” said Campbell. “Our children in the summertime have nowhere to go. But now we have the opportunity to help shape and mold them right here in the community.”

Commissioners committed $650,000 back in January of 2013 to build the center on land leased from Habitat for Humanity, but the project was delayed last fall when constructions bids came in over budget. County staffers say the building has been redesigned and the rebidding process should be complete by April.

The community center is part of a remediation plan agreed on by representatives from RENA, Orange County, Chapel Hill and Carrboro, to help make amends to the neighborhood that bore the burden of the county and municipal landfill for forty years.

The plan also includes extending sewer service to 86 parcels in the Rogers Road neighborhood, at an estimated cost of approximately $5.8 million dollars.

Carrboro has already set aside its portion of the total, about $900,000. Chapel Hill, however, is struggling to find a way to pay its share, as the area is outside of town limits. Town staffers are currently investigating the possibility of creating a new utility district or extending the town’s extraterritorial jurisdiction to include Rogers Road.

In the meantime, the Chapel Hill Town Council voted last week to spend up to $77,400 on preliminary engineering studies and community outreach to determine exactly where sewer lines should go.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said this is work that will need to be done no matter what.

“What this does is, this moves the ball even though Commissioners and Council members just keep talking,” Kleinschmidt told the Council.

The engineering studies and outreach are expected to take up to 10 months to complete. The Chapel Hill Town Council will revisit the question of the extraterritorial jurisdiction on June 16.

High Bids Put Rogers Road Community Center On Hold

CHAPEL HILL- Interim County Manager Michael Talbert told Orange County Commissioners on Tuesday that progress toward a Rogers Road community center will have to be put on hold.

“Today we received bids on the community center. Unfortunately the bids came in substantially over budget,” said Talbert.

Commissioners authorized $650,000 to build a new facility, but the initial project bids ranged from $1.3 million up to $1.6 million dollars.

Talbert said the project would have to be redesigned, but he offered no timeline for when that might happen.

“The county is committed to this project,” said Talbert. “We will begin working immediately with the architect to redesign this project to get it within budget and move forward to rebid the project at some future date after we can come back with a redesign.”

That wasn’t the only setback for Rogers Road residents at Tuesday’s meeting of the Board of Commissioners.

The board had planned to approve an operating agreement with the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association (RENA) for the community center, but commissioners pulled the agreement off the agenda, saying a slew of last minute changes required further review by the county attorney.

Despite the delays, Board Chair Barry Jacobs said the commissioners remain committed to the project.

“The Board of County Commissioners has done nothing to delay this, so we’re going to try to deal with things that were unanticipated, that came up that could delay it and try to keep things moving forward as expeditiously as we possibly can,” said Jacobs.

The operating agreement is tentatively scheduled to come back to the board for a vote on October 1.

Funding for the community center is part of a remediation plan for the neighborhood that’s lived with the landfill for 40 years. Commissioners on Tuesday reviewed the final report from a multi-jurisdictional task force charged with creating a plan to extend sewer service to the neighborhood as part of that remediation.

Under the plan, Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Orange County would split the roughly $5.8 million dollar bill to bring sewer service to 86 homes in the area.

The plan is making its way through the three jurisdictions, with both Carrboro and Orange County officials waiting to see if Chapel Hill will extend extra-territorial jurisdiction to the area, as attorneys say that’s the only way the town can invest money in the sewer project.

With the community center on hold and funding for the sewer plan still uncertain, Commissioner Mark Dorosin urged his fellow commissioners to take action to show their support for the remediation plan.

“There is a perception now in the community that the towns are more committed to this than the county,” said Dorosin. “I don’t believe it is true, but I believe it is unfortunate.”

Dorosin put forward a motion to commit the board to future funding for the sewer project, but the motion failed to garner support from any other commissioners.

Jacobs said board members were acting on the advice of County Attorney John Roberts.

Roberts cautioned the board against any action on the remediation plan while the EPA is investigating claims by RENA that the county engaged in environmental racism against the largely African-American community.

“I think it is legally risky to expend funds in this area when the EPA could come in and say, ‘Oh that’s very nice and irrelevant. You need to expend more funds to do X,Y and Z,’” Roberts told the board.

Dorosin, who acted as RENA’s attorney in the EPA complaint before stepping aside in July, said he disagreed with the attorney’s advice. He worried that the board’s silence sent a signal to the community that the remediation plan was losing momentum.

But Renee Price, who co-chaired the task force that developed the sewer plan, said her support for the Rogers Road neighborhood was unwavering.

“In our responsibility as commissioners, we have not forgotten that neighborhood,” said Price. “I’ve been there numerous times. I actually take it as an affront to say that I’m not committed.”

County commissioners will take up the issue of the remediation plan November 21, when the board meets with elected officials from Carrboro and Chapel Hill at the annual Assembly of Governments.