Saved by the budget bell, Balis Center still under threat of closure

By Lara Patangan
Resident Community News

Potential uses and management of the Balis Community Center are being brainstormed by residents concerned with the threat that if the Center continues to be underutilized, it will likely be closed.

The future of Balis Community Center was discussed at a town hall meeting held in the Center and hosted by District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer last month. After providing a brief history, Boyer cautioned that the Center, which was spared from closing as city council members grappled with 2014 budget deficits, still faces an uncertain future.
“You are responsible for keeping it open,” Boyer said bluntly. “If we have fewer and fewer people come here, it’s going to close. You advocated for it. Use it.”

The Community Center was intended to have multi-faceted programming simultaneously with as much adult programming as children’s programming. Currently, the center, which is run by the Parks Department, is only used for after-school activities and summer camp.

Listing ideas for use including chess clubs, bridge clubs, yoga and art classes, Boyer said the building’s potential has not been realized. “We had great plans for what this facility could do to serve the community.”

She said that over the years, individuals and groups trying to use the Center encountered obstacles from the Parks Department who is typically in charge of children’s programs.
For instance, currently the Center can be privately rented only on weekends and holidays. It can’t be used to host any sort of fundraiser unless those funds are raised for the Center. Also included in the 12-page contract to rent the facility is a requirement that monies must be paid directly to the city and then reimbursed to the contractor for any classes held there.
Part of the meeting’s purpose was to brainstorm ideas for ways to change that.

Options suggested included having a nonprofit organization enter into an agreement to operate the Center during non-program hours and handle organizing the rentals and agreements. Or individuals and groups could collectively enter into contracts for specific programs.

According to Josue Cruz, Associate Director for the Cathedral Arts Project, his organization would be willing to consider taking over art education for children at the center so that city staff could focus on adult programming.

Boyer said Balis Community Center, which currently operates weekdays from 2 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. to accommodate children from Julia Landon Middle School, can work with the Parks Department and the community to develop a pilot program to maximize its use.

She would like to have a proposal for the Center’s use by January and cautioned that the neighborhood could lose it within the next two years if something isn’t implemented.
“We just have to get word out and come up with a system to mange it,” Boyer said. “There is so much potential there. It would be a waste to let it close.”

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