Community center needs more than bond funds to become reality

Staff writerApril 6, 2014 

One project on Metro Parks Tacoma’s to-do list might never get built — even if its $198 million bond issue passes.

The ballot measure includes $6 million for an Eastside Community Center that would eventually replace the Eastside Pool and the Portland Avenue Community Center. But it can’t be completed unless Metro Parks finds at least another $24 million.

The facility’s cost is estimated at $30 million to $35 million. A feasibility study, completed in February, said parks will seek money from the city of Tacoma and “community partners.” But Tacoma City Councilman Marty Campbell said the city doesn’t have the money in its budget to help right now. Neither does Tacoma Public Schools, said facilities communication coordinator Stacy Flores.

If local partners do not come together, there’s no guarantee of a new center.

Metro Parks Executive Director Jack Wilson said it could take time to line up the financial pieces of the project. He expects Metro Parks to lean heavily on the Greater Metro Parks Foundation for help on the community center.

“When we get the plan done and people understand the compelling vision, I think the funding will follow,” Wilson said.

The project has already received some state help. In 2013 a group of teens lobbied the state Legislature and received $400,000 to conduct soils and other testing for the community center.

“I would rather take longer to build the right thing than settling” for a substandard project, said Shon Sylvia, director of recreation and community for Metro Parks.

The project is inspired in part by the death of East Side resident Billy Ray Shirley III, a 17-year-old who was shot and killed outside a Nalley Valley warehouse in August 2011. Noticing the East Side’s dearth of activities for teens, he once asked his mother, Shalisa Hayes, how to start a community center.

In the years before her son’s death, the area’s Boys & Girls Club location and libraries had all closed down, Hayes said.

“He was onto something, and it made a lot of sense,” Hayes said. “An idle mind is the devil’s playground.”

Hayes said the $6 million is a start.

“He was a really good kid, not a gangbanger,” Campbell said recently. “An investment in the community center on the East Side is perhaps the most important thing (in the bond issue). I truly believe this will save lives.”

The project, which includes a pool and sports fields, could be built in phases. Its proposed location is next to First Creek Middle School.

Metro Parks, Tacoma City Council, Tacoma Public Schools and the Tacoma Housing Authority did partner once before on the project, each chipping in on the $75,000 cost of the feasibility study. All four agencies had considered some kind of service for East Side teens and residents, Sylvia said.

“It’s one of the densest populations in the city, and there are some gaps in services,” Sylvia said.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542 kate.martin@ thenewstribune.com

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