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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
The new $25 million Linden Community Center is expected to transform the park it will occupy, but it also could become a catalyst for a neighborhood that has struggled for years.
The 50,000-square-foot recreation center and 20-acre renovated Linden Park, to be financed through the city's capital budget, will include a "spray ground," gymnastics room and teaching kitchen, pedestrian paths and lighting, and a bigger parking lot.
But it will also be a "center for opportunity" in North Linden that provides health and wellness, jobs and educational programs. Partners could include Franklin County Job and Family Services, Boys & Girls Clubs, the YMCA, Columbus City Schools, faith-based groups and private partners.
"This model is about collaboration," said Tony Collins, the city's recreation and parks director. "We know we can help the neighborhood out through collaboration."
Collins said his department is working with COSI on an outdoor-education learning lab. The center also will include a performance stage.
"We're inviting residents to be part of the program," he said.
"I truly believe this is going to be the neighborhood center. It has been demonstrated around the country that if you invest in your park space, community centers, you see improvements in neighborhoods."
The Linden area has struggled with crime and poverty for years. Linden is of one of the three highest-priority areas of the city targeted by CelebrateOne, the group charged with reducing infant mortality in Columbus; the others are the near South Side and the Near East Side. In the period from 2011 to 2015, Linden's infant-mortality rate was 20.2 per 1,000 live births, the highest in the city.
The current recreation center, at 1254 Briarwood Ave., was built in 1951. It has a gym, weight room, dance room, fitness room and other amenities. But it is only 24,000 square feet and outdated.
The new center, to be built on the same site, is expected to serve 78,000 residents, which the city said is 56,000 more than the current center serves. It is still in the design stage, but construction is supposed to begin in June 2019, with the center opening in early fall 2020.
The city surveyed residents in May about what they wanted at the center. Among the most popular ideas were more computers, cooking, day trips, book clubs, dance, drama and fine arts, and summer day camps. Also sought after: an arts and crafts studio, a shelter house with picnic tables, and a gymnasium.
Columbus Councilwoman Elizabeth Brown, who leads the recreation and parks committee, said she and Collins have talked a lot about centers of opportunity that will improve people's quality of life. The other community centers scheduled to be redeveloped based on that model include William H. Adams, Glenwood, Driving Park, Douglas, Beatty, Fedderson, Dodge, Sullivant Gardens, Howard and Marion Franklin.
Brown said residents were at the drawing board to help create a plan "truly alive with their vision for the neighborhood."
"We hope it is an improvement to help ... the neighborhood in every sense," she said, comparing it to the Reeb Avenue Center on the South Side, a social-services hub with a market and cafe in a former school.
Walt Reiner of the North Linden Area Commission said it was "good to have real grass-roots input from people."
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