County Parks and Rec is on the move with new programs

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By John Barnhart

Bedford County’s Department of Parks and Recreation has a new home. The department has moved from its old offices in the city of Bedford into the former county nursing home building on Falling Creek Road.
    The move has been beneficial, according to Michael Stokes, the county’s director of parks and recreation.
    The department needed to move because the old building didn’t have enough space. The former nursing home building provides a cost effective option because the county already owns that building. The adaptive reuse of the nursing home cost less than acquiring property and building something new. And, there is no shortage of bathrooms.    
    It also gives the staff the opportunity to better serve the community. The Central Virginia Area on Aging (CVAA) already conducts nutrition programs for elderly residents in the building and Stokes said his department is working with Lynchburg College’s Beard Center, which works with the elderly, to establish a resource center in the building.
    “We are going to provide space for them to conduct their programs,” Stokes said.
    Stokes notes that by being able to provide space for the Beard  Center  to use,  the  county will be able to provide a service that does not cost taxpayers any money.
    The facility will also provide space for after school programs for youth, according to Stokes. None of this was possible until the department moved into the old nursing home building.
    “We didn’t have this space in the other facility,” Stokes said.
    County staff are still in the process of modifying the old building. The former chapel is destined to be an exercise room. The easy part will be installing a cushioned floor. The challenging  part is to insulate it. The roof is not insulated, which makes heating and cooling the chapel expensive. But, they don’t want to install the insulation on the inside because that would cover the chapel’s beautiful tongue  and groove ceiling. They believe they can insulate it from the outside.    
    The old nursing home building has the space for future programs.
    “We can grow into this,” said Stokes. “We have the facility and, as funds allow, we can grow into it.”
    As they develop programs, their goal is to make them self-sustaining. The programs will generate enough revenue through fees to pay for themselves. This includes providing funds for scholarships — money to help people who want to participate, but can’t afford the fee.
    The old nursing home’s kitchen provides opportunities. CVAA has also been using it for its nutrition programs and Stokes said that the county could use it to offer cooking classes. The fact that it’s a commercial kitchen means that the county could also offer it to people in the community who have a commercial food product idea and need access to a commercial kitchen to work up the recipe.
    The cafeteria also could be available for community events. There is an outdoor area connected directly to the cafeteria. Stokes envisions people renting that area for an outdoor event. The cafeteria would make the event rain-out proof because it would allow the event to be moved indoors if the weather didn’t cooperate.
    “If we can make this a really nice area, I think we can rent it out a lot,” Stokes said.
    Will Bailey, the department’s program coordinator, sees a lot of opportunities for the department. Bailey came to Bedford County last year from Farmville, where he was the director of parks and recreation. In fact, he was the department of parks and recreation; it was basically a one-man operation.
    “When I got here, I saw a nearly 800 square mile county,” he said.
    To deal with the challenge, he divided the county into five areas centered around facilities that the rec department uses: The Forest rec center, the portion of the old Montvale School next to the Montvale Library, Sedalia Center and the lower level of the Moneta Medical Center as well as the the facilities on Falling Creek Road. The idea is to make rec department programs more accessible to county residents by minimizing the distances they have to drive.
    Another facet of serving the county’s residents is to provide more programs. The rec department has youth rec sports, done in cooperation with youth sports associations in the county. However, not everybody is interested in team sports and not everybody is a youth. There will be offerings such as art classes, youth and adult fitness classes and martial arts.
    Making programs accessible also means that people need to be able to sign up for them and they need to know what’s available. Bailey is working with the county’s libraries so that people can sign up there.    
    He’s also rolling out a brand-new Web site for the parks and rec department, which should be up and running shortly. It will not only show what’s being offered, but will show available slots.    
    “You’ll even be able to reserve picnic shelters online,” he said.
    The Web site will also make it possible for people to request specific classes. Others will be able to vote on these requests. Bailey said that this will allow the department to get community input on what residents want.
    Bailey plans for the site to also provide information on what rec department partners, such as the Sedalia Center, are offering. Partners will be various independent organizations in the county — Bailey hopes to partner with the Extension Service, the libraries, 4H, the Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce and others. He wants the site to be a one-stop location where people can go to find out what’s happening in Bedford County.
    “You always get people who say ‘There’s nothing to do in Bedford County,’” Bailey said.
    The problem, according to Bailey, is not that there isn’t anything to do; the problem is that people don’t know where to go to find out what’s available.
    Another get the word out effort will be a magazine-format publication that the department will send out to all county households three times a year. Stokes said that the money for this is already in the budget.
    “We are not going to ask for any more funding,” he said.
    Parks and rec has managed to take other steps without going to taxpayers for funding. One of those is the skate park, built on county property with private funds.
    “It’s one of the top three skate parks on the east coast,” Stokes said.
    He sees this as one more way to reach out to people who aren’t interested in team sports. It also creates the possibility of bringing skateboard regional tournaments to the county. And, Stokes notes that it has taken skateboarders off Bedford’s streets.
    “They’re out here where they have a safe location,” he said.