The sneak peek was the first opportunity for the public to view up close the structural foundation of the $26 million center that includes a gymnasium, community hall and kitchen accommodating 300-plus people, preschool rooms, meeting rooms, a technology lab, outdoor patio, amphitheater and a library annex known as the Gateway Center for Learning (GCL).
The community center has been a gleam in the eye of city officials for more than 20 years. “I think I was just out of diapers when we had the first groundbreaking (for Prewett Park),” joked gray-bearded Deputy Recreation Director Dave Sanderson at the center’s groundbreaking a year ago.
The facility’s cost has been borne by thousands of southeast Antioch residents who have been paying additional Mello-Roos taxes on their property for much of the past two decades. City officials, led by former Mayor Don Freitas, tried several years ago to get the tax extended in order to pay for both a community center and a full library. But the Mello-Roos Board rejected that idea, preferring to pay off the tax earlier and provide only a community center.
Gary Agopian, chairman of the GCL committee that sponsored Saturday’s preview, made sure to thank Mello-Roos residents for making the center possible. “We have been paying for this facility for some time, and now it is being built,” he said. “I’m very excited about that.”
The GCL Committee has been raising funds to provide desks, chairs and computers in the 1,500-square-foot library annex. More than $20,000 has been raised so far from Dow Chemical, the Keller Canyon Landfill Mitigation Fund, Dow Credit Union and Antioch residents.
County Librarian Anne Cain noted that the GCL isn’t quite the $12 million full-scale library once envisioned for Prewett (although there is room next to the community center for it if funding becomes available), but she welcomed the annex as a major addition to library services in a city with a large number of children. Currently Antioch has only one library, a heavily utilized facility on East 18th Street.
“We are really, really excited about this,” said Cain. “If you can’t have everything that you want, what is it that you can do with what you have? That’s exactly what’s happened here. In building the community center here, the City Council asked that we try to provide library services and do the best that we can.”
The GCL will provide a take-out and drop-off service for the 1.4 million books, magazines, CDs, DVDs and other items circulating throughout the county’s 25-library system. Cain noted that much of the rest of the center would also provide usable space for library activities, particularly the technology lab, classroom spaces, outdoor patio and amphitheater.
“There’s a big focus in public libraries now in making sure that very young children are ready for their reading skills,” she said. “We’ll be focusing on some early literacy programs both here and at the library in downtown. So the Gateway concept is for both of the libraries – bringing together the technology hubs in both of them, focusing on early literacy and then focusing on popular, heavily used collections that will be here. So we are really, really thrilled.”
Agopian noted the popularity of the expanded after-school hours at the Deer Valley High library across the street from the community center. “The turnout has been amazing,” he said. “You would not believe how many kids are studying, getting resources and doing better in school because of their ability to access that library. So having this facility here (at the community center) is a key part of making our community a better place to live. Maybe it will be the genesis of a full-blown library in the future.”
The center is scheduled to hold its grand opening in early November. One of the big questions yet to be answered is where the funding will come from to provide ongoing operation and maintenance for it. City officials have been making major budget cuts, including laying off staff, to deal with a deficit, and more cuts are expected in the budget year starting in July. Money to keep the center staffed and open all day every day could be tight.
For more information, go online to www.antiochgatewaycenters.org.