Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
KENNER, La. - A budget crunch in Kenner hasn't put the brakes on renovating an outdated recreational facility. The city is moving forward with an ambitious plan to upgrade Wentwood Adult Gymnasium.
First item on the list: a spanking new elevator costing nearly $200,000.
Right now, a local construction team is in the process of laying brick for the new elevator.
"As soon as the elevator is built, you'll start seeing walls being torn down, floor being torn up, you're going to see all the replumbing, reelectrical of building to make sure the building is to code," said Kenner City Council President Kent Denapolis.
The city says the current facility is used mostly for boxing these days. Neighbor Debbie Landry has been watching the project get underway from her house across the street.
"I didn't know what to think and my husband went over there and they said they were building an elevator. We were wondering, why you building an elevator? Nobody ever uses that building," said Landry.
The elevator's price tag surprises the Kenner resident, who has lived in the area for 18 years.
"They don't have money for fire stations and all that and they're doing this," added Landry.
The city's plan is to build a food bank, provide meals for the elderly and offer outreach services on the building's second floor. City officials say it could take up to two years to finish the project.
However, step inside and the structure appears abandoned with holes in the floor and water damage clearly visible on the ceiling. The city recently staved off budget cuts, including a proposed plan to slash its park budget, reducing operating playgrounds from 11 to 5. That plan, which the city said would have saved $650,000, was abandoned with money diverted from elsewhere in the budget by city council members.
Even though the elevator is being paid for with federal federal funding, one neighbor isn't convinced this is a smart spending strategy.
"They're not spending the money right, that's for sure," said Landry.
But, city leaders are sticking to their guns.
"I think when you can get Washington, D.C. to come down here and spend money and improve rather then going to Missouri and Kansas City, I think that's a plus," said Denapolis, who added that the future of the gymnasium is at the mercy of potential cuts.
Mayor Mike Yenni has also gone on the record in support of the community center plan.
Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that the city was still dealing with a $3.5 million budget shortfall. As this web story points out, the budget hole has been filled.