BLUE ASH, Ohio -- No one in Hazelwood believes the community center is ideal.
The white brick building squats at the corner of Oak and Idalia Avenues, where longtime resident Jesse Maxwell said its TV and secondhand foosball table welcome just a single visitor every hour the building is open. Those hours, she added, are sparse.
However, many residents of the historically black neighborhood said at a Thursday night Blue Ash City Council meeting they'd rather have that than the replacement the city is considering.
"We fought hards years ago to get a community center," said Wilma Byrd, who was born in Hazelwood and remembers seeing the center go up in the 1970s. "To possibly see it torn down for an outdoor shelter is just unreal."
Byrd and Maxwell believe approving the proposed $400,000 open-air shelter, which will house nothing but picnic benches, would be akin to treating a wound in need of bandages with an amputation.
In the process, Byrd said, it would also rob low-income locals of a free community space that welcomed anyone unable to afford a membership at the Blue Ash Recreation Center.
Michael Washington, who was also born in Hazelwood, went a step further: "They're taking away the heart and soul of the community."
He and Byrd said they would rather see the center renovated than razed; both suggested adding more funding, more programming and more regular hours to attract visitors.
"We'd like to have exercise classes," Byrd said. "We'd like to have something for the adults to do in the evening. The kids could do after-school projects
A renovation would cost just $212,000 -- a little over half the price of a replacement.
"Our community is getting stronger, and they're about to remove something that could be utilized for some better purpose," Maxwell said. "That greater purpose will never be seen when you tear it down and you replace it with a four-post shelter with a roof."
The proposal was an informal one Thursday night, so council members did not vote on the community center's future. They will continue to consider the issue at future meetings.