Posted: Jan. 24, 2013

Hamilton takes different approach to operating community center

Greg Lynch
Nionnah Ponder works on some arts and crafts with instructor Linda Horne at the Booker T. Washington Community Center on South Front Street in Hamilton, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. Staff photo by Greg Lynch

By Ed Richter

The Booker T. Washington Community Center could soon be under new management.

City officials, the Great Miami Valley YMCA and the community center’s board of directors are scheduled to meet Friday to continue hammering out the final details of a partnership agreement that would bring together a host of community organizations and institutions to help provide programming, raise funds and operate the facility at 1140 S. Front St. Among those interested in working with the community center are the Boys and Girls Club, the YWCA, Supports to Encourage Low-income Families (SELF), the Fitton Center for Creative Arts and Miami University Hamilton.

“Everybody is in agreement that this is the right time to look at a different approach,” said Woody Fitton, president and CEO of the local YMCA. “There’s an understanding that we want to serve more people, and not fewer, with more and better programming and activities.”

For years, city officials and community leaders in Hamilton’s 2nd and 4th Wards have been at odds about how the community center should be operated, programmed and funded. Over the past several months, the city has expressed concern about a number of issues with the community center’s board, namely a lack of administrative oversight, inconsistent hours, erratic programs, and an inability to complete basic reimbursement paperwork for CDBG funding and other revenue streams.

City Manager Joshua Smith has said because of these issues, agencies such as Butler County United Way and Hamilton Community Foundation have stated they won’t provide financial support to the Booker T. Washington Community Center until meaningful changes occur.

For a number of years, the community center has been the center of controversy between city officials and community leaders in the 2nd and 4th Wards with differing opinions on how the center should be operated, programmed and funded.

So last year Smith recommended that council remove administrative oversight from the BTW Association Board — but keep them on in an advisory role — and form an ad-hoc committee to find other community agencies or organizations who could oversee the center’s operations and programming. Smith said more funding from the philanthropic would flow into the center when there is evidence of tangible progress.

During the past six months, the city, local pastors and other community stakeholders have been meeting to discuss the formation of a partnership among various community groups to collaboratively run the center and its programs.

Denise Baszile, president of the non-for-profit Booker T. Washington Association board, did not return calls for comment.

“Each of the organizations bring different strengths to the table,” Fitton said of those that have expressed interest in the partnership. “We asked people, ‘What were the needs of the kids?’ These organizations have a history of addressing these needs because the Y can’t do it all and there are others who are more effective.”

Fitton said the upcoming meeting will be to identify programming opportunities and what different agencies will provide in the partnership that will operate the center. He said he has been spending time with BTW board members and local pastors discussing the proposal.

“We’re not trying to take it (the center) away from the community,” Fitton said. “Our goal is to have the center open more hours, and I hope we’re seen as a solution….. This is a great opportunity for the city and the community.”

Preliminary plans for the new management model call for the center to be leased to the YMCA with the BTW board acting in an advisory role instead of a governing one. The BTW’s board had been leasing the center from the city for $1 a year, but the two-year lease expired Dec. 31. The board is being allowed to continue operating the center until the new partnership is finalized, Smith said.

“They’ll participate in the planning process and with the initial (program) offerings,” Smith said. “Hopefully, we can get this launched this spring.”

The center, which was organized in 1914, primarily serves residents in the city’s 2nd and 4th Wards. About 200 people regularly use the center for youth and senior center activities which is open from 3 to 8 p.m., according to center officials.

Federal grants fund the Health and Wellness for Seniors program as well as other family programs at the center. The YMCA offers GED educational programming at the center and the center provides year-round youth athletic and recreational opportunities, including fee-based used of the facility’s indoor swimming pool, according to city officials.

“Everyone has agreed to forge a new path and create a working document to get to where we need to go,” Smith said. “We’re very excited about a partnership between the BTW board and the YMCA. At the end of the day we will have a very much enhanced program for children and senior citizens.”


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