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Community Center Will Open This Summer

July 3, 2008

The thuds of hammers, the squeaks of drills, and the general bustle of construction workers are now characteristic of the corner of Townsend Avenue and 175th Street. Once an empty lot, this busy street corner will only become busier when Mount Hope Housing Company’s community center opens to the public later this summer.

Originally slated to open this past spring, construction and contracting delays have pushed back the opening of this $15.5 million building to an unannounced date sometime this summer. “There are so many things going on… a very complicated but do-able project.” said Mike Varrone, of Signature Construction, one of the contractors.

Community Center

Indeed it is complicated. Mount Hope’s community center will be one of only two LEED-certified buildings in the Bronx. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, rates buildings on how environmentally-friendly they are to their neighborhood. The new community center will run mostly on solar power, re-use its own water and has been constructed with natural resources.

The center, with its red brick, grey, and glass exterior, is both visual pleasing and functional. It will house all of Mount Hope’s various programs aimed at youngsters and families.

Pamela Babb, vice-president for development and communications for Mount Hope, said that when the idea for a center came up at a community meeting ten years ago, residents stressed the importance of having all these programs under one roof. “We are keeping our promise to the community.” Babb said.

The fulfillment of this promise will take place in two phases. The first, currently being constructed, is the “Educational Center”, allowing pre-existing youth programs like Project READY, the After-School Center and Play Street to be centralized in one location. The second phase, a gymnasium, will be built along the Education Center later this year.

The gymnasium, according to Babb, will be the major draw, providing recreational activities and a safe space for kids after-school and during the summer. While the gymnasium will certainly be the jewel of the new community center, Mount Hope still needs to raise additional funds, meaning an exact construction schedule hasn’t been finalized.

In speaking with various community members, there have been mixed responses to the new center. “I think if it’s going to help kids and seniors, it’s a good thing,” said Agnes Smith, a Walton Avenue resident. “I just hope it gets me a job,” said another resident who was sitting in a nearby community garden. “That’s what we really need right now.”

Others were less generous. “They won’t tell us what’s going on. The construction has been too much noise.” said one Walton Avenue woman. Added John Brown, another local resident: “They (Mount Hope) came in with some plans they showed us, then we never heard from them after that.”

In terms of community outreach, Babb cited the center’s groundbreaking ceremony held in February 2005. Yet she accepts that the organization hasn’t been too forthcoming with information about the project. “We’re really focusing on the upcoming ribbon-cutting ceremony,” she said. “But we’ve held back on announcing it to the public because we’re not sure when the building will be finished. But this [the ceremony] is when everyone will know about the community center.”

Babb hopes media attention at the ceremony will draw not only community support, but financial backing from private donors. “We still need the money to maintain our programs and personnel,” she said. We’re hoping the opening will attract individuals who want to invest in our center.”

While some residents are in the dark with regards to details about the center, when told about its eco-friendly design, Brown said, “It’s a good thing it’s environmentally friendly. The Bronx has a lot of pollution, I’m happy they’re doing something about it.”

By ROB SGOBBO

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