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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Someone should stand up for youth

The Henderson County Board of Commissioners confronts a couple of negative factors, several reasons for caution and at least a half dozen good reasons to buy the old Hendersonville Christian School property.

The Hendersonville Lightning reported on Wednesday that county commissioners are exploring the possible purchase of the land, classroom building and gym, which the school's board put up for sale for $1.2 million after Hendersonville Christian School closed last spring.
Commissioners and County Manager Steve Wyatt emphasized that discussion is preliminary, that they want to make sure the purchase makes sense and especially that they want to generate public support before moving forward.
They should of course exercise due diligence in examining the property, its positives and its liabilities. And they should make sure that they have a workable plan in place to use the property before any yes vote on a purchase.
The negatives will blossom fully and noisily. Commissioners have promoted the perception themselves that there's no money, that the county must continue to cut the budget and that they won't practice government overspending in the Historic Courthouse on Main Street.
Through budget cuts, some of them wise and some foolish, the board has weathered the worst of the recession. Through sound investment, it has built new buildings and renovated others. It even set aside $200,000 for recreation during budget crafting last spring, making a commitment to build soccer fields and other ball fields at some point in the future. Now opportunity has landed on the commissioners' doorstep, sooner than they thought.
The first and fundamental question commissioners should answer is about recreation itself, for youth, young adults, middle-aged folks and older folks. If recreation is not an agreed-on priority, the commissioners should bail on the idea right now.
But if recreation is a priority, then commissioners should have the courage to stand up and say why, and stand by a vote even as it unleashes a predictable barrage of doomsday griping.
The commissioners have a powerful answer. Henderson County could own a gym that is suitable for multiple recreation uses plus offices, classrooms for crafts, exercise or other programing for children and adults, a new soccer field and multi-use field, and a 9½-acre campus in an easy-to-reach central location for $1.2 million (and probably less). It's likely the county would finance the purchase, at interest rates that are at their lowest point in 50 years. It's possible the county could cover the debt service for what it's paying in rent for county offices that now lease space — Commissioners Larry Young has already mentioned the Elections Board.
Negatives? People in other parts of the county who have been waiting in line for county capital investment — a park in Green River-Tuxedo-Zirconia, a library in Fletcher — will howl that their communities ought to come ahead of a park and gym in Hendersonville.
Cautionary notes? Commissioners should make very clear that the purchase price is not the full price. The gym needs little work to be used; the classrooms are a different matter. Even the soccer field may need work to be ready for play.
The possible new county recreation campus is in the early stages, yes. But it's time that someone on the this board had the political backbone to stand up and defend an investment in youth, fitness for adults and preservation of green space for walking trails or other purposes.
The purchase represents a golden opportunity to vastly add to the county's recreation assets at a relatively low price. If commissioners are willing to make recreation a priority, they ought articulate why and be prepared to stand by the decision.