The Beloit Community Center, now closed to events, is in need of extensive renovations that could total as much as $1.5 million.
The Beloit Community Center, now closed to events, is in need of extensive renovations that could total as much as $1.5 million.

Debate over Beloit Community Center lands in wrong venue

Published 10:22pm Monday, October 14, 2013

The Beloit Community Center, on Alabama 22 between Orrville and Selma, is in dire need of repairs, but two groups that claim the same name can’t seem to agree on who owns the property.

Several Beloit community members attended the Dallas County Commission meeting Monday in an attempt to resolve the dispute.

“Every time we try to do something, he [Ed Braxter] comes around and tries to claim that he owns it,” Beloit Community Organization president Lee Sanders said after the meeting. “We are just trying to make it a better place for the community.”

Ed Braxter, who says he is the president of a separate Beloit Community Organization, said he owns the community center and will not rest until he receives the building’s keys.

“We have a right to the keys of the Beloit Center,” Braxter said during the commission meeting. “The job must be done to return the keys. We are willing to do whatever is necessary.”

Braxter and Sanders both said the center’s long history makes it a valuable community asset.

The Beloit Community Center was built in 1929 on a plot of land previously occupied by the Beloit Industrial Institute. Wisconsin missionaries founded the institute in 1888. It is recognized as the first Christian school for African-Americans in Dallas County.

After the institute closed in 1923, the Dallas County School Board operated the building until 1963. It was owned for a period of time by a private, painting company and in 1978 the Beloit Community Organization purchased the building for $11,000.

The building’s condition has deteriorated since the purchase. Sanders said some areas of the center’s flooring are beginning to fail. It also needs heating and air conditioning repairs.

In September, the building was closed until renovation funds are found.

Sander’s organization has received two bids to make the necessary renovations. One bid was for $600,000 and the other equaled $1.5 million.

Sanders said Braxter is stalling renovation efforts and local attorney John C. Calame said Braxter’s claim may not be legitimate.

“It appears that (Baxter) changed the name of his organization to match the organization listed on the deed,” Calame said after the meeting. “When the deed was done, it was intended to go to the community as a whole and not one organization.”

The deed lists Beloit Community Organization as the owner of the community center. Ownership is complicated because both groups claim the same name, Calame said. However, Braxter’s story differs slightly.

“One group of people, within the organization, came up with some ideas in 1993 or 1994, split off and formed the association,” Braxter said. “They just want to come in and fix some floors; they don’t have a long term goal. I see a longer term goal that is better for the community.”

Sanders said his group was formerly named the Beloit Community Association, but changed its name to prevent Braxter from interfering.

County commissioners expressed their support for a renovation, but Dallas County Probate Judge Kim Ballard advised both groups to settle the matter in court, not a public meeting.

“We want to help however we can,” Ballard said. “But this is not the place to settle this dispute. We don’t want to take sides.”

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