Council approves purchase of Franklin Fitness Center

Published 11:36 am Friday, November 10, 2023

By Buzz Trexler
Star Correspondent
In a move intended to meet the growing demand for programs and special events through the Elizabethton Parks and Recreation Department, while averting the expense of repairs at its current facility, the City Council during its regular meeting Thursday night approved by a five-to-one vote the purchase of the former Franklin Fitness Center.

Councilmen Richard M. Barker, Michael Simerly, Jeffrey C. Treadway, Mayor Pro-Tem William E. “Bill” Carter, and Mayor Curt Alexander voted for approval, while Councilman Wes Frazier voted against the purchase agreement with Ballad Health. Councilman Kim Birchfield was absent.

City Manager Daniel Estes acknowledged the work Barker had done toward getting the agreement. “You’ve been working a long time on this, Richard,” Estes said.

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“Yes, and the City of Elizabethton owes a debt of gratitude to Bill Greene,” Barker said, referring to the Bank of Tennessee chairman. “Because he interceded on our behalf with Ballad Health … We really appreciate his good help. This is a good deal for the City of Elizabethton; in fact, it’s an excellent deal. So, it’s going to benefit us for decades to come.” 

On Oct. 16, the City of Elizabethton and Mountain States Health Alliance announced that after months of talks they had agreed to terms for the city to purchase the center for $500,000. Acquiring the facility and transforming it and surrounding property into a community recreation center was the No. 2 priority for the Parks and Recreation Department. The sale of the 14,601-square-foot facility – as described by the Parks and Recreation 2020-2030 Master Plan – is expected to close within 30 days.

According to a summary prepared for council members, the Elizabethton Recreation Center at 300 W. Mill St., which opened in 1987, “needs significant repairs, such as replacing windows and doors throughout the building, installing an air conditioning cooling system for summer use, and replacing the roof while adding new ceiling insulation in the gymnasium. The estimated cost of those repairs is over $1.2 million. These repairs are essential to maintain the facility’s functionality and safety for the community.”

Franklin Fitness Center, located on West Elk Avenue, was built in 1995. It was owned by Elizabethton Wellness Center Limited Partnership before being acquired in 2008 by Mountain States Health Alliance, doing business as Sycamore Shoals Hospital.

The facility will be the new home of the Elizabethton Parks and Recreation Department and repurposed as a new community center that will provide “multifunctional space for various purposes,” including a wide range of programming and a venue for private, educational, and community meetings.
The current gymnasium at the West Mill Street center will be used for year-round athletic programming until a new gym can be built at the new site.

Once the move is complete, the new recreation center will be near the Joe LaPorte Junior Recreation Area, Franklin Pool, outdoor pickleball courts, Sycamore Shoals State Park walking trail, the Tweetsie Trail, and the future extension of Elizabethton’s Linear Trail.