A new vision has been created for a 36-acre park site on South Hill that in earlier years was home for one of America’s most popular outdoor religious dramas. The site now known as Meridian Habitat Park and Community Center is to become home for a Boys & Girls Club HOPE Center pending a successful fund-raising effort, according to Pierce County officials.
The site at 144th and Meridian will continue to be owned by Pierce County Parks and Recreation and will include a senior center and community recreation facilities. Pierce County Executive John W. Ladenburg and CEO Rick Guild of Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound signed a 25-year lease agreement recently as a first step to the fund-raising activities.
“The Habitat Park site has been a focal point on South Hill for years, and now it will be even more so,” said Councilmember Calvin Goings. “A Boys & Girls Club HOPE Center at an already beautiful park will create a true gathering place for the entire South Hill community.”
Parks and Recreation Director Kathy Kravit-Smith said the agreement results from a shared vision that will bring new parks and recreation opportunities to the community. “Our department’s goal is to help children find positive recreational experiences and to develop lasting friendships and life skills. The Boys and Girls Clubs has a reputation for doing just that. It’s a pleasure to work with an organization that is dedicated to partnering to provide these kind of community opportunities,” she said.
Guild said the Meridian facility will be similar to Lakewood’s Gary and Carol Milgard Family HOPE (Hope, Opportunity, Possibilities and Empowerment) Center and to the planned Jim and Carol Milgard Family HOPE Center in Gig Harbor. “Family services will be the focus in all of our HOPE Center projects,” Guild said. “Collaborations and partnerships are a valuable commodity in that they allow for shared use and shared expenses for facilities and programs. The partnership with Pierce County Parks and Recreation will ensure that the facility is being used to its maximum.”
The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has expressed interest in partnering on the Meridian Habitat Park project. Its Family Support program has been a valuable resource at the Lakewood Hope Center, Guild said.
Plans call for demolishing the existing building and replacing it with a 31,000 square foot facility housing the Boys & Girls Club and other community uses. During the day when youth members are in school, the facility would be available to adult community members for programs such as technology, cultural and peforming arts and recreation.
The Boys and Girls Clubs will launch its campaign under the leadership of community members Jerry Korum and Tom Absher this summer to raise $6.5 million for construction, design and project administrations and $5.5 million for five years of operational staffing, endowment, fund development, annual support subsidy, pledge shrinking and indirect cost contingencies. Lease terms allow the organization five years to complete fund-raising efforts.
Boys and Girls Clubs operates four clubs in Tacoma and the Lakewood center. It also serves more than 20 school sites in the Bethel and Franklin Pierce districts. Construction is expected to start this summer on the Gig Harbor HOPE Center.
Meanwhile, Pierce County’s summer parks and recreation programming is progressing at the Meridian Habitat Park. Activities include Kidmobile, Mad Science Camps, Mountain to Sound Eco-Adventure Camp, Arts for Kids Camp, Cooking Camp, Introduction to Drama and Theater, Intermediate-Advanced Drama and Babysitter Training Program. More information is available at (253) 798-4176 or http://www.piercecountywa.org/parks .
Since purchasing the property two years ago Pierce County has provided community center and park offerings including weddings, retreats, receptions, classes, lectures, concerts and picnics. “The grounds have a lovely pond setting,” Kravit-Smith noted.
That setting served a series of church ministries for nearly 40 years, including World Pentecost Church, Meridian Christian Ministries and Covenant Celebration Church/Champions Centre. Using Conservation Futures funds and bond proceeds and a State Community, Trade and Economic Development grant, the Parks and Recreation Department purchased the site in 2006 for $6.9 million.
While it was in church hands, the site’s 3,000-seat amphitheater was the setting for the “Jesus of Nazareth” passion play for more than 20 years ending in 2005. The play, which dramatized the Easter story, drew as many as 29,000 visitors each season.