A community center for Tacoma's eastside?

Members of a group that wants to open a community center on Tacoma’s eastside were at City Hall earlier this month to gather support from city officials.

Shalisa Hayes, founder of Team Billy Ray, told the committee young people have held planning meetings over the past year to try and gain support for the idea. Team Billy Ray was created in September 2011 after Hayes’s 17-year-old son, Billy Ray Shirley III, was murdered in Tacoma. Hayes told Tacoma City Council’s public safety, human services and education committee that two days after her son’s funeral, kids held a car wash to raise money for a community center. “Since then, the same group of kids, depending on what day it is, they get together and talk about what community activities can we be involved in to raise awareness that we are here and we have younger siblings and cousins that could benefit from this. They have taken the concept of volunteerism and opened eyes. They are out there every month doing something.”

The group, which includes the Tacoma Housing Authority, Metro Parks Tacoma, and Team Billy Ray, point to a variety of reasons for the community center: the closures of Gault Middle School and the Eastside Boys & Girls Club over the past three years; the Puyallup Tribe’s interest last year in converting Gault Middle School into a community center for both tribal members and the larger community; a gang assessment reported recently completed by the City of Tacoma that showed the Eastside is one neighborhood affected by gangs and could benefit from a community center to serve as an alternative to joining gangs; and Team Billy Ray’s efforts to raise awareness and funds.

Councilmember Marty Cambpell, who represents Tacoma’s Eastside, told the committee he has heard from members of the Tacoma School Board and the Eastside Neighborhood Council who support the idea. The catch, however, is that a formal feasibility study could cost between $50,000 and $90,000. It’s a bill Tacoma can’t foot alone, especially since it faces a $63 million budget shortfall over the next two years. Still, Campbell asked the city manager’s office take the lead in pulling together partnership organizations that could share the cost of the study.

“What has been phenomenal to me is they were busy two days later after [Billy Ray’s] funeral and they are still busy today,” added Hayes. “It’s not only a beautiful thing, but it’s something that I bring to the table saying they are screaming, ‘Don’t forget about us.’ It would be nice to one day see that dream come to fruition.”