When a Rec Center Floods, Federal Aid Dries Up

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By Nick Drymalski

If an arts center or animal shelter gets flattened by a natural disaster - like a hurricane or flood - the Federal Emergency Management Agency can help you rebuild. But if your youth recreation center gets wiped out, you're probably out of luck - as an Indiana nonprofit is finding out.

Flood waters topped out at more than seven feet around the Owen County Sports Complex's concession stand.

The Owen County Sports Complex in Spencer, Ind., was flooded on June 6 after 12 inches of rain fell in four hours. The complex is used by about 3,000 youth annually, through sports events that it hosts and through summer camps and meetings of church groups and a local Girl Scouts group.

Estimated damages totaled $243,000 - a huge sum compared to the annual $36,000 operating budget for the complex, which survives on fundraisers and concession stand sales, according to Randy Truelock, the president of the Owen County Sports Complex's board of directors.

Among the damages: more than three feet of water in the gymnasium and more than seven feet in the concession stand. Everything in the full service kitchen was ruined, while the air conditioner and heating units can run at only 15 percent capacity. If those aren't fixed by winter, the complex operators say, they'll have to shut it down because they'll have no source of revenue from indoor events.

The ruined full-service kitchen could leave the complex without a revenue source.

Truelock sent an e-mail to FEMA requesting aid, but his request was denied within 20 minutes, he said.

"Your submitted documentation clearly indicates your organization is ineligible for FEMA funding," read the reply from FEMA. The agency doesn't cover recreation facilities, but it does cover community centers, animal shelters and fine arts centers.

Truelock appealed, citing evidence that the complex also functions as a community center. Again, his appeal was denied within 20 minutes.

Now the complex has to hope that local citizens do cover rec facilities. To spread the word, Truelock has been on six local radio stations as well as the three major television stations in the area. Community members have donated their labor to help get a baseball field back to playable condition, General Electric donated a refrigerator and someone donated a freezer. The complex is holding a benefit tournament this month.

A least two baseball tournaments that were to be held at the complex have been moved to different locations because of the damage.

"A lot of things were going our way, but the flood knocked us on our chin," Truelock said. "We're going to have to sit back and start again."

Contact: www.owenvalleysportscomplex.com.

  • Sue Reed

    I somehow found the article in Youth Today on the center and the FEMA refusal. When Katrina hit I was the Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast and have just recently retired. We lost all of our buildings and have been denied FEMA three times as non essential services. I too quoted the statutes that allow zoos and museums to receive funding but to no avail. We actually opened for services to children and their families in temporary school sites within a month of the storm but have never received a dime of FEMA help. Actually we are not a recreation center but they found reasons to refuse. I was recently invited to a forum with the GAO about the government working with non-profits after Katrina and provided my stack of letters, refusals, and all documentation. The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast has moved on to other private sources to rebuild but it continues to happen to others across the county.