Virginia Hankins, a long-time resident of Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, remembers when the Peoples Neighborhood Resource Center was named after the late activist Malcolm X. That dates back to the 1970s and earlier, when Hankins’ parents volunteered at the center, and 14 relatives who made up the Hankins household went to the center for community meetings and after-school activities.
“I’m very passionate about this center,” said Hankins, who is now 64 years old and recently battled cancer. “Hilltop is me. I am it. I don’t want that to die.” She spoke last week during a meeting of Tacoma City Council’s public safety and human services committee. At issue is a plan to revamp the popular community center, located at 1602 South Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, which has served as a neighborhood anchor for decades.
In May 2009, the City of Tacoma and Metro Parks Tacoma began to examine the major renovations needed for the old facility (the building is owned by the City and maintained and operated by the parks department). According to Shon Sylvia, director of Metro Parks recreation and community services department, a steering committee of stakeholders was formed to make recommendations for upgrading the building. The City and Metro Parks also conducted an audit of the facility to determine what improvements needed to be made to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The team also created a conceptual design for a new swimming pool and began to identify funding sources. The building audit was completed in fall 2009 and showed that as much as $6.3 million was needed for upgrades; renovating the pool would cost an additional $5.2 million.
Meanwhile, a series of community meetings were held over an eight-month period to find out what Hilltop residents wanted from their revamped community center. The biggest message: ‘We want a new swimming pool and aquatics facility.’ In particular, they wanted the swimming pool to connect with the outside world through windows, roll up doors, and a spray ground.
In turn, the steering committee wondered whether to look into tearing down the existing community center and constructing a new building. “The steering committee asked, ‘How can you have this state-of-the-art pool without a state-of-the-art building?'” said Sylvia. They considered an expansion that would include a coffee shop, access to social services, and skate park. Sylvia said the project is moving into another phase involving design development of the swimming pool, determining whether to keep the existing building, and identifying funding sources.
Councilmember Lauren Walker is optimistic funding exists for the renovation. She points to an $84.3 million bond approved by voters in November 2005. Last year, Tacoma City Council approved a list of legislative priorities that included a $1 million request from the legislature for capital projects.