LAURINBURG — Bryan Graham’s passion for his job, specifically for recreation in Scotland County, is evident as he talks.
On Tuesday, Graham brought that enthusiasm to the Laurinburg Rotary Club, where he spoke about the gains made in the Park and Recreation Department since he arrived three years ago, as well as events coming up on the calendar later this year.
And, of course, the highlight was a description of what a proposed multi-generational center would be, what it could mean for Scotland County and how it can be paid for and operated.
“Collaboration has been the key to our success since I came here,” said Graham, who came to the county from the Pembroke Parks and Recreation Department in 2015. “We can’t do it all by ourselves, so we collaborate with 24 other entities — like the chamber of commerce — on programs now.”
He added that, since arriving, the department has added a full-time position for senior programs, improved participation in athletics programs and beefed up its marketing through social media, pamphlets and an improved website.
“I think we’ve created a positive environment for Parks and Recreation,” Graham said.
He also said the fall season is “huge for us,” and talked about the fall movie series along with a holiday scavenger hunt planned.
“I told you when I was here two years ago that we were going to be creative,” Graham said. “And I’m excited because I think we have been — and the upcoming ‘Insanitarium’ is a good example of that.”
He then showed a video created in-house of the spook house fundraiser titled “Nightmare on Main Street,” which will take place in downtown Laurinburg on Oct. 19-20, 26-27 — a fundraiser that earned $40,000 last year, with $17,000 going into the Parks and Recreation coffers.
Graham didn’t hesitate to dive right into the big topic of the day, which is the proposed multi-generational center.
“This has been a big topic since I was here last,” Graham said, “but we weren’t ready for that two years ago. It was important that we build our programs first.
“Now, however, we think building a facility like this will really help enhance our recreation opportunities,” he said. “And so everyone knows, we don’t plan on just rolling out basketballs — every single person in this county will be able to benefit from a center like we have planned.”
Some of the ways a center can improve Scotland County, according to Graham, is that it can enhance tourism with weekend competitions; give the community a place to come a recreate or hold parties; and provide a place for businesses to hold get-togethers and meetings.
“The opportunities will be endless,” he said.
Graham then shared a story: “We had a child come to sign up for football, but when he saw our plans for the center, he said to his mother, ‘Mama, I want to give them my piggy bank so they can build this.’
“Those kinds of things really touch my heart,” Graham said.
He pointed out several reasons the project is vital for the county — including the facts that Scotland ranks high in adult obesity; at the bottom in health outcomes; social and economic factors; has no public aquatic resources; and has only one public recreation center (in Wagram).
“Personally, I feel we are on the rise as a department, and there is a lot more we want to do,” Graham said. “I really think the multi-generational center is the future of Scotland County.”
Paying for the project, however, is where the controversy resides.
“A tax of any kind is a dark hole in Scotland County,” Graham said. “But the referendum on the November ballot that asks for one-quarter of a penny per dollar spent would give us a tremendous opportunity.”
He said the sales tax would generate an estimated $750,000, which would be used 100 percent for the center’s operations and/or Parks and Recreation projects. The construction of the center, estimated at between $10 million and $12 million, would come from other means.
“But all of this that I’ve talked about today is contingent on that referendum passing,” Graham said in conclusion. “Without it, the chances Scotland County would ever get a facility in the near future is very minimal … if at all.”
Should the November referendum pass, Graham said construction would likely begin in early 2020 and be complete in about 18 months.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-506-3023 or [email protected]