Letter – Surry lets down Dendron seniors
Published 12:47 pm Wednesday, November 1, 2023
Editor, The Smithfield Times:
When the Dendron Post Office closed, a group of Dendron residents and their supervisor lobbied the county to purchase the building. The town needed a community place to gather.
These residents then volunteered their time and materials to help refurbish the space, build a kitchen and save the old post office. For a couple of years it was used for Trunk or Treat, weekly and monthly meetings, Christmas gatherings, tree lightings, voting, family reunions, etc.
It all came to a screeching halt a couple of years ago when county administration said the seniors could no longer meet at the Parks and Rec. Building. The seniors were told to meet in the open-air Farmers Market Pavillion with no restrooms. There were understandable complaints.
Our County Administrator then booted the town out of the Dendron Community Center, without county board or Town Council approval, and moved the seniors into the small building, over the objections of the same seniors.
This year, the Town of Dendron needs a place to gather for the annual Christmas gathering, so I politely approached Ms. Melissa Rollins, county administrator, for permission. I was told unequivocally, and immediately, no. Citizens attempted to contact our supervisor, Brenton Byrd, and got no response. I asked Tim Calhoun, board member, to contact county administration and board members. He got no response from some and others told him no.
This is just one example of the poor governance of the county under the present board and senior staff. Should we have to beg for the use of our town building? Deliver our seniors to the spacious Parks and Rec building, which was originally financed and built by a grant for the seniors. Or better yet, create a space in one of the underutilized portions of our beautiful public schools for the seniors.
Surry County administration and board, work with us on a solution to this easily solved issue.
Former member of Dendron Town Council
Editor’s note: Surry County Administrator Melissa Rollins provided the following response to Thomas Byrd’s letter.
The county purchased the building for $147,000 in 2016; it’s owned and maintained by the county. No known records support the allegation of town residents volunteering resources. The county used several contractors and maintenance staff, spending over $100,000 renovating. Pre-pandemic, it was rented for countywide use and for county programs/ activities.
The May 2021 move to the pavilion had the objective of keeping seniors safe during the pandemic while enabling them to convene after months of isolation. Shifting to outdoor venues was consistent with CDC guidelines. Adjacent to the County Complex with restroom facilities; seniors were driven before, during and after if needed. The program is under the direction of the Department of Social Services.
The county governed effectively, pivoting quickly to move the program to a county-owned facility after listening to concerns about the temporary outdoor location. The board was briefed before the decision and none at the time expressed concerns. No town approval was required. The town was not in the building to be booted out. A county department occupied it previously.
Administration cordially discussed the request, offering immediate assistance. School facilities were mentioned, but Mr. Byrd cited costs/location as concerns. The county arranged for use of Dendron school facilities at no cost to the town for this event, less than 10 minutes/3.8 miles from Dendron Town Hall. Far from the alleged poor governance, county staff listened and offered a remedy.
Two members spoke with Supervisor Calhoun at length (one preferred an alternative location, the other desired to learn more about why administration proposed an alternate location).
The Parks and Recreation facility was built in 1980 using grant and county funds. Pre-pandemic, the Senior Program convened in the gymnasium. The pandemic forced local governments to think differently about functionality, space, programs and operations. After a 15-month pandemic shutdown, the demand for recreational health and wellness necessitated reassessment of how use of the recreation facility could be better maximized for activities for adults, youth, seniors and other county programming/operational needs.