Almost 50 volunteers, including local residents, members of the Drew Valley Civic Association, DeKalb Democrats Work, Boy Scout Troop 550 from Immaculate Heart of Mary, DeKalb Parks and Recreation Department staff, and county Commissioners Jeff Rader (Dist. 2) and Kathie Gannon (Dist. 6), came out April 18 to spruce up Briarwood Recreation Center and promote community involvement at the center, which shows years of neglect.

After a workshop on rain barrels, adults painted, picked up trash, pruned bushes and removed invasive plants, while children decorated the rain barrels and colored pictures for Earth Day.

“We have a whole plan to revitalize and reorganize the park,” said Drew Valley Civic Association (DVCA) President Jodi Cobb, who led the effort to revive a master plan for improving the center. The plan was designed and funded in 1999 but never got off the ground.

Residents lobbied Rader to get Briarwood onto the commission agenda and invited DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis to visit and hear their concerns. A public meeting with Ellis will take place at the center May 11 at 4:30 p.m.

“We want to show CEO Ellis that Drew Valley and surrounding residents are very interested in making the center a destination for the community,” Cobb said. “I’d love to see it as a jewel in the DeKalb Parks & Rec crown.”

The aged condition is a major reason that the center, which has an outdoor playground and swimming pool, as well as a full-size indoor gym and other rooms, is underused.

Its regular uses include basketball, BLAZE Sports and a county summer camp. With community involvement, the center could accommodate more programs, said recreation assistant Shana Morrow, who wants to attract more local children to the camp program.

Staff and residents alike want to improve the pool area with furniture, shade, a more accessible entrance and better bathrooms. On the other side, they would like to have a gazebo for community functions and move the playground, which has been partially closed for safety repairs for months, from a gully to a level space next to Briarwood Road, where higher visibility would improve safety for families using the park alone.

To get things started, Rader and Gannon are allocating money to upgrade the electrical panel and the gymnasium with fresh paint, rooftop air conditioning and high-efficiency windows, which will replace the ancient corrugated plastic currently serving as windows, said Ravonda Moody, a project manager for park planning and development.

“It can be turned into a real neighborhood destination, where we could have after-school programs and more neighborhood parties,” Cobb said. “More people will use it if it’s nicer.”

— Jody Steinberg