By Dedra Cordle
Attending a government meeting is not often at the top of the to-do list for most children. If they happen to be found in attendance on a particular night, it is usually attributed to the lack of availability of a trusted sitter or a school making it a requirement to earn a credit for a corresponding course.
But a group of preteens made it a point to come out to the village of Urbancrest council meeting on June 14 to press their elected officials on a singular issue – the continued closure of the Vaughn E. Hairston Southwest Community Center.
“I would like to know when the center will be open for the youth,” said Britton Jones, 12.
For the past two years, the popular destination for athletic recreation and educational programming has been closed to the general public. It was initially believed to be a temporary closure to slow the spread of a novel coronavirus but then a loss of state funding prompted the site’s long-time manager (the YMCA of Central Ohio) to cut recreational programming at the location.
Although the organization still runs youth development programs such as Head Start, Positive Alternative Learning for Students (PALS) and after-school care out of the site, it fell on the village and its advisory committee to find partners to run recreational activities.
It also didn’t help matters that thousands of dollars in upgrades to the facility were needed.
“It was in bad shape for a while there,” said village Mayor Joseph Barnes Sr.
While there is still some work to be completed, village officials were able to give Jones and his group of inquisitive friends an answer to their most pressing question.
“The Vaughn E. Hairston Southwest Community Center is open to the youth and the public as of (June 15),” said Barnes.
According to Barnes, the community center was able to open this summer primarily due to grant funding provided by the Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services. He said the county has designated the community center as a “Ready to Earn” worksite for teenagers seeking employment and they will serve as camp counselors for daytime youth programming.
“We are excited to be able to partner with the county commissioners and St. Stephen’s Community House to not only provide our youth with some much needed summer programming, but our community with access to the center as well.”
The Southwest Community Center will be open during the weekday and the hours of availability will be divided among age groups.
Senior citizens will have access to the facility from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.; youth ages 7-17 will have access to the facility from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a free lunch provided daily; and those with ages that fall in-between those groups will have access to the facility from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Use of the facility will be free throughout the month of June but it will transition to a monthly fee starting on July 1, 2022. Barnes said the fee schedule will be $25 for all seniors and young adults who reside in the village; $30 for young adults who do not reside in the village; $15 for non-resident youth; and $10 for youth who live in the village.
Although the general public will now be able to access the facility, what the center can offer in terms of organized programming is currently limited to the daytime youth programming portion. For instance, the fitness center will be open for solo or buddy-partner training but there are no scheduled group workout sessions led by an instructor at this time.
Much to the disappointment of the children (and some adults) in attendance, the indoor swimming pool will also be unavailable as it needs upgrades related to the pumping system. There is also the question as to whether it could be adequately staffed due to the nationwide shortage of lifeguards.
Barnes said while village officials know the Southwest Community Center still has a ways to go before it can be fully operational, they are pleased to have it open to the general public in some capacity again.
“It has taken us a little while but we are getting there,” he said.
In other news, Barnes said the village is accepting applications for youth (especially those who live in Urbancrest) between the ages of 14-18 to work as daytime youth counselors at the site through the “Ready to Earn” program. Inquiries can be made in-person during normal business hours at the village administrative office, located at 3357 Central Ave., or by calling (614) 875-1279. The program will run through the beginning of August.