By John Schaffner

Residents of Brookhaven’s Ashford Park neighborhood gathered Oct. 11with DeKalb County officials to celebrate the culmination of a six-year labor of love, the opening of a community center in the park at the corner of Redding and Caldwell roads.

Ronnie Mayer, the unofficial mayor of Brookhaven, credits DeKalb Chief Executive Officer Vernon Jones with getting the project done.

“The old building that was here was built 58 years ago by the homeowners. They gave it to the county,” Mayer said. “Then about eight years ago, we had a function here. There is an older lady who lives in our neighborhood, Hannah Chiles, who is in her late 80s. I sat there with a fan fanning her because we had an air-conditioning unit that just would not work.”

He said he went to Jones, who told him all the county commissioners “want you to rehab the building; they don’t want a new building.”

But in the end, Mayer won out and got a new building — 3,318 square feet, including the wrap-around porch. Construction began April 1.

Jones, who led the ceremony and ribbon cutting to open the facility, said, “This is an exciting day because this facility holds about 155 people and cost about $640,000, which is a good investment.”

Jones said he was at Ashford Park when he first took office, “and Ronnie Mayer was beating me up and wearing me out, saying we need to renovate this place because the community does a lot of activities here.”

“I said, ‘Ronnie, forget that. Why don’t we just tear the place down and just build a new one?’ ” Jones recalled. “I was actually joking. But Ronnie said, ‘OK, let’s do it,’ and started holding me accountable.”

Jones said the county was fortunate to pass the bond initiative that included money for this particular project. “This certainly is a much, much better facility,” he said.

The CEO also got the tennis courts for the park some five years ago.

Mayer put the cost of the new building and work to the parking lot and park area at closer to $800,000, but that total included some materials and labor donated by people who live in the neighborhood, including Mayer, who bought all the trees for the area around the building.

Pro Building Systems built the building and provided a free metal roof for the outdoor picnic shelter.

Mark Milsap, who owns a company called Atlanta Environments, donated the sod and irrigation system.

The granite countertop in the kitchen was done by Creative Stone. The owner, Dimitri Keller, lives in the neighborhood.

Roy Ashley & Associates, landscape architects and land planners, did the design work for the building.

But the major portion of the cost was funded by DeKalb County.

“It was just a community effort for the whole deal,” Mayer said.