Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Wilmington pens designs for $3M MLK Center addition, project rises in cost

A rendering of the MLK Center with the future gymnasium from the southwest. The design features masonry, metal panels and translucent panels. (Port City Daily/Courtesy of City of Wilmington)

WILMINGTON – The City of Wilmington is penning designs to add a high school-sized gym to the MLK Community Center, located on 10th Street. The renovations will be funded from an approved 2016 parks bond.

The MLK Center currently has six tennis courts, a playground, three ball fields and a swimming pool. It offers after-school programs, open gym times and other community programs. The facility is known as an oasis for kids who live in nearby neighborhoods.

City council saw two building options for the downtown center Monday morning during its agenda briefing. Both were more than $1 million over budget.

Related: Wilmington City Council greenlights delayed Bijou Park revitalization

The 2016 Parks Bond is funding $38 million 15 park projects. All are expected to be completed in the next five to seven years, including the flagship project, North Waterfront Park.

$1.8 million was included to renovate the MLK community center’s entrance and lobby, upgrade its bleachers and floors, and add a second gym.

Plans for the MLK Center include a new 50-by-84-foot gym/multi-purpose room. It would bring the total occupancy of both gyms up to 499 people.

The court could be used for basketball, wrestling, volleyball and pickleball. Motorized curtains and goals will make it easy to change the sport. 

There is also new storage for equipment and office space in the plans.

City of Wilmington engineering project manager Anne Ballweg presented two building options. One was a masonry and stucco design that would cost an estimated $3.6 million.

However, staff recommended a design with masonry and metal panels for $3.1 million. Council also preferred this.

“It is more attractive, less institutional-looking and less expensive,” Ballweg said, comparing it to the alternative building option.

The design features brick masonry to match the existing building, a slanted roof that would help with drainage, and translucent light wall panels that would bring in sun during the day and create a glow coming from the building at night.

“We think the buttressing on the side and the slanted roof adds architectural interest and breaks up the mass of the building,” Ballweg said. “We also like the translucent panels with windows along the side, not being behind the main goals.”

The price tag is higher than originally planned. The construction and development costs are more than $1.3 million over the general obligation bond funding.

Councilmember Charlie Rivenbark called it disturbing how far off the funding gap is.

“I know that we’ve added things and what have you and I understand that,” he said during Monday’s presentation. “It’s just maybe $1.8 was not enough in the beginning for something like this. It seems to be happening a lot with things we bring forward.”

Councilmember Kevin Spears said he is pleased with the presentation but felt they were still missing a “wow” factor.

“What’s going to separate this gym from some other gym around town or some other gym in another city?” Spears asked.

The city will continue working on the designs through October 2021. It expects to award a bid by February 2022 and complete construction in one year.

A rendering of the future MLK Center addition from the northeast. (Port City Daily/Courtesy of City of Wilmington)

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Alexandria Sands Williams
Alexandria Sands Williams is a journalist covering the City of Wilmington, education and film. Before Port City Daily, she spent a year in the quaint city of Southport reporting for the award-winning State Port Pilot. Prior to that, she wrote for several Charlotte publications while studying at UNC Charlotte. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at or on Twitter @alexsands_

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