CHATHAM—The Morris Memorial announced in late August that a plan to sell the historic building in the Village of Chatham and build a new recreation center at Crellin Park in the Town of Chatham was not going to happen.
On the Morris Memorial Facebook page dated August 31, the not-for-profit organization wrote that its planning committee “met with the Town of Chatham as part of our joint Crellin Park Rec Center Feasibility Committee. After lots of hard work and good faith discussions between both parties, it was ultimately decided that the project was not feasible.”
The community and youth organization owns and maintains the Morris Memorial building on Park Row in the village. The brick building, built in 1910, hosts an after school program for children in the Chatham School District and a basketball program. In 2019, the gym in the building was also being used for pickleball and hosted local seniors before the Covid-19 pandemic. The Family Resource Centers of Columbia County rents the second floor to host playgroups for preschool age children. That program was put on hold during the pandemic as well, but will reopen in October. The Morris also hosts a soccer program at the Crellin Park, a park owned by the town.
The statement on Facebook goes on to say, “The Morris will continue to explore all options (including renovating our current building) as we look forward to adapting and expanding our services to meet the needs of the community. We would like to thank the Town of Chatham, and other committee members for their time and candor throughout this process.”
The Chatham Town Board included the committee’s minutes/summary of findings in the agenda for their September 16 regular board meeting. The minutes say that at an August 30 meeting, “all attending agreed that this idea of the town and the Morris Memorial partnering to provide a park and a community center for Chatham Community is not feasible.”
The committee was created by the Town Board in early June and consisted of 6 members: 3 from the town; 3 from the Morris Memorial; 2 non-voting members, 1 from the Village of Chatham and 1 from the Town of Ghent.
According to the letter from the committee, “The Morris Memorial Board has two requirements that were necessary to pursue this project further.” There had to be a way for the Morris to “control the new community center” like they do at the current building and they required a “steady/long-term source of income from the town for running the town’s recreation program.”
For the first requirement, the committee found they could go through the state for a “Park Alienation” process.
‘After lots of hard work and good faith discussions between both parties, it was ultimately decided that the project was not feasible.’
Post on Facebook
The second requirement of funding would involve a town-wide “recreation fee” and borrowing money. The minutes from the committee meeting say that “both were considered illegal by the town attorney and bond attorneys.”
The town does currently run a summer recreation program with day camp for residents and non-residents and a swimming program. The town’s Parks and Recreation Director Mike West, is also the executive director of the Morris Memorial.
At a Village Board meeting in June, when the plan for a new community center run by the Morris at the town park was still being considered, Morris board and planning committee member Matt Wood said that the current Morris building would need over $1 million of repairs and changes to make it ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. At a Town Board meeting, also in June, Mr. Wood said, “We are not eager to get rid of the building.”
The Morris Building is in the Village of Chatham and for many years the village donated funds to Morris for programs. In 2020, the village board cut the $10,500 donation from the budget saying there were some questions about the legality of awarding the money to Morris Memorial. At a budget meeting in the spring of 2020, Chatham Mayor John Howe said of cutting the funds, “It pains me to have to do this.” He also said, “we can’t be funding” the Morris’s youth program since it is not a village program. At the meeting on April 13, 2020 all five board members voted in favor of cutting the funding to the Morris.