April 4, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

Community center eyes certification, gym renovation

By HSJ Online [email protected]

Community Center of Hope organizers have laid out big plans going forward, including renovating the old Hope Town School gymnasium and gaining more childcare classroom certifications.

Both projects could mean more income for the center and its mission to help the town.

The board of the center held its annual meeting last week, where president Jeff Yarnell laid out a rationale to keep the aging gym, instead of demolishing it as previously planned -- having it operational could bring in money to the center as well as space for expansion.

"It would be a blessing for the center, it would be a blessing for the history, it would be a blessing for the town," Yarnell said. "We have had a lot of ideas put together on what we would want to do there. Things to raise money, things that the community could use it for."

The building, constructed in the midst of Great Depression by the Conservation Corps, used to be the site for pickup basketball games, donkey basketball fundraisers and other performances on its stage, as well as the former home of the Hauser Jets and the Hope Red Devils.

Now, the roof leaks, there is structural damage and dangerous levels of mold.

"In the past, we have been told by some companies, 'The gym is done,'" Yarnell said. "'It basically needs demolished, it is borderline condemned.' We had people come in and test for mold and say 'Don't even go in it.'"

"That being said, we have had some estimates in the past. We were eager to make those changes and get the gym back where it needed to be. It is an important historic site in Hope... Two years ago, a year ago, I was one of the first board members to jump off and say that from the information that came to us, we can't do it. We have to grasp that fact and move on and that is going to include tearing it down."

Now, Yarnell is more hopeful.

Previous estimates for contractors have been in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but local builder and real estate owner Ken Patton looked over the damage and said that he would do the work at near cost, or a fraction of the other estimates, as a service to the town.

"Ken strongly feels that he can fix all of the issues in the gym," Yarnell said. "We are working on a plan now to get the leaks in the roof stopped so that we have another year or two to buy, to continue to come up with the funds to have the renovation of that."

Among the community center's 2017 goals is the creation of a building fund to pay for needed improvements.

"It is something easy to get the town behind, because nobody in the town wants to see it disappear," Yarnell said.

Chelsea Kendall, executive director of the center, said that the agency is working to get all of its classrooms certified. So far, only one classroom has certification from the Paths to Quality program, she said. That would raise interest in classes among parents and help fill the openings in classrooms.

The childcare center serves about 46 students now, with 19 in pre-kindergarten, 19 in pre-school and 8 infants/toddlers during the 2015-16 enrollment period.

About a third of the available classroom seats are unfilled this year. There are nine openings for pre-kindergarten, eight for pre-school and three in the infants and toddlers room.

The center is also working to open a new classroom for 2-year-olds that would add space for 10 more children.

According to the annual report, the center brought in $367,096 in contributions, revenues and gains, while it had $350,932 in total expenses and losses. The biggest annual fundraiser for the center is now Smoke on the Square, which raised $9,700. That surpassed Hope Heritage Days, which was the previous biggest fundraiser at $6,500 in 2016.

Yarnell praised the Smoke on the Square efforts, which he organizes. He said the dates for this year's event have been set for 5 to 9 p.m. on June 9th and starting at 11 a.m. on June 10th.

He said the board is also looking for ideas for a third major annual fundraiser.

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