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Union Station organizers hash out issues with residents

Neighborhood community center moves one step closer toward reality

The project to establish a faith-based community outreach center in Southeastern Elementary School cleared another hurdle Thursday evening after several residents who previously had concerns with the proposal listened to the organizers explain their plans and respond to questions.

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ABOVE: Don Patton of the Union Station board of directors opens the door to Southeastern Elementary School for neighborhood resident Jamie Johns prior to a Thursday evening meeting to discuss a plan to turn the school into a faith-based neighborhood community center. BELOW: Members of the Union Station board of directors, at left, speak to an audience of neighborhood residents who voiced opposition to a plan to turn Southeastern Elementary School into a faith-based neighborhood community center, and their own supporters, in the foreground, during a public meeting at the school Thursday evening. EXAMINER PHOTOS | REUBEN MEES

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Several churches and the Logan County Ministry Foundation have a proposal on the table to use the school for the Union Station community center that would offer youths recreational opportunities while also serving parents who are struggling with poverty-related issues.

The Bellefontaine City Schools Board of Education on Monday approved the transfer of the 613 Hamilton St. building to the non-profit group for $1. The agreement allows the school district to have access to four classrooms in the building, as well as the common areas and the playgrounds during the next 30 years, giving the district an option to operate a public preschool. The district’s elementary schools will consolidate at the new facilities being built along Ludlow Road at the start of the next school year.

But some residents of the single-family residential zoned neighborhood have voiced opposition to the project and were not so comfortable with the idea of such a facility operating there.

Their concerns at the beginning of the meeting mainly centered on the type of services and clientele the church group would try to reach, such as providing a homeless shelter or rehabilitation services for felons and sexual offenders.

But organizers assured the residents the goal was to offer youths, primarily from the immediate neighborhood, a positive and well-supervised place to congregate for activities while also offering adults a link to services that could help them with their financial and lifestyle issues.

“We want this to be a safe place for kids; so we aren’t going to run programs for sexual predators,” Pastor Eric Cook said. “We are going to have children on the campus and we are not going to mix the two.”

“I think there is a lot of misconceptions that we’re just going to import all the trash into this neighborhood,” the Rev. Ron Irick said. “We aren’t going to be dragging in derelicts from all over the city to pollute your neighborhood.

“It’s about kids that need something to do. You have a single mom that might work and the dad you don’t know where he is, this is something for them to do to stay away from drugs and crime.”

Additionally, the center’s director Liz Carter said the typical hours of operation would be from about 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. except when activities such as the faith-based Upward Sports or Special Olympics programs might have after-hours sporting events scheduled. Also, the property would be fenced in and secured to prevent people from using it as a cut through or late-night secluded spot to congregate as neighbors complained has been the case in the past.

“We want to come in and be an asset to this community,” Pastor Cook said. “We don’t want to be a thorn in your side. We want to be by your side.”

About half way through the hour-and-a-half meeting, neighborhood resident Brian Wilson, who had attended because he was somewhat skeptical about the plans, spoke what most residents were beginning to realize was the plain reality of their situation.

“Everyone talks about heroin, homelessness and poverty being a problem because from everything I’m seeing and hearing they are already here,” Mr. Wilson said. “What else do you want (the churches) to spend their money on?

“The school board could demolish the building and we could have metro housing put up here. Or it could sit there boarded up. Maybe this is the lesser of two evils. Whatever people say might be here is already here now.”

By the end of the meeting, many of those who spoke out with concerns were echoing those sentiments.

Read the compete story in Friday's Examiner.

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