Originally created 10/24/06

Community needs are reviewed



Ozie Jones doesn't mind moving his car wash if it means his friends and neighbors have a place to play basketball, get quality health care and maybe work out.

That's good, because the Salvation Army has taken the next step toward acquiring the millions it will need to build a multiuse social service Kroc Center on the banks of the Augusta Canal. The facility would be built on about 30 acres of land, near where Mr. Jones' business, Magic Touch Car Care & Rims, currently sits.

After months of work, a comprehensive community assessment prepared by an independent company, The Medical Foundation Inc., was presented to the public Monday at the Julian Smith Barbecue Pit.

Salvation Army Maj. James Hall said that the group's findings, which included a need for juvenile and adult recreation and health facilities, mirrored his organization's idea of what the facility would need to be.

"I thought it was really very impressive that we were that close in what we proposed," Maj. Hall said.

The Kroc Center would include educational and art facilities, job training programs and a recreation center.

Before officials could break ground on the center, which would be built on more than 30 acres in the Chafee Park area of the Harrisburg neighborhood, they must first win a highly competitive $71 million grant provided by the estate of McDonald's heiress Joan Kroc.

With the study completed, Salvation Army officials will discuss the findings with their partners and create an estimate of what the facility will cost, according to Maj. Hall.

"It is a process, and it has to meet the needs of the community, it has to meet the mission of the Salvation Army and it has meet the criteria of the Kroc Foundation," he said. "It can't just be a wish list of everything the community said it wants."

Steve Ridini, who helped conduct the study, told the audience that planners were able to identify a large number of gaps in area programs and services that the Kroc Center could possibly fill.

Those included such problems as a lack in affordable health care, lack of arts education, and limited access to adult education and reliable transportation.

He said Augusta tops the state averages in the number of single-mother households and in children and teenagers under the age of 18 - two factors that played a large role in the recommendations.

"What does this mean for the community?" Mr. Ridini said. "It means you had better have some youth programming."

The things proposed in the 225 interviews by the research group included multipurpose fields for team sports; year-round, full-time day care for children; mentoring programs; and a medium-size theater.

All are things that Mr. Jones said the area desperately needs.

"I think the building is well worth it for that area," he said. "It's for the kids."

Charlie Collins, of the Westinn Neighborhood Association, said he was pleased with what he heard at the meeting and believes it's time for the community to rally around the facility.

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT:

Salvation Army officials will submit a draft financial statement to its Atlanta headquarters. If it is approved, another company would be hired to determine whether the Augusta office can raise the more than $35 million it needs to be eligible for the grant.


WHAT THE COMMUNITY NEEDS


Through about 225 interviews with local citizens, community leaders and nonprofit group directors, researchers were able to outline the facilities most need in the Kroc Center.


- Fitness center


- Game room


- Augusta Canal access with a dock and storage facility


- A "one-stop shop" for social services


- After-school care and programs


- A medium-size performing arts theater


- Computer lab and wireless Internet access


- Worship center


- Tutoring and mentoring programs


- Training opportunities for adults, such as financial management, computer literacy, GED classes and technical training


- Collaboration with area health care providers to improve access to medical and dental services.