Sellwood, Woodstock Community Centers rally to survive
All faced with the same fate, advocates of the threatened Sellwood Community Center were joined by supporters of the Woodstock Community Center and the west side's Hillside Community Center at a well-attended rally on the morning of March 17.
The crowd swelled above 300 people, causing the rally to spill into the outdoor courtyard where the Sellwood Middle School Marimba Band was performing.
"This turnout shows how much families value their neighborhood community centers, and want to keep them open," pointedly said SMILE Vice President Gail Hoffnagle, also chair of Friends of Sellwood Community Center Committee.
Leaders made speeches, kids and parents made protest signs, and many people took advantage of table stations where they could write personal messages to city officials. At noon, many of them walked down the street to march in the St. Agatha St. Patrick's Day Parade, placards in hand.
Portland's city budget deficit, which was forecast to be as much as $15 million, is partly due to a major contribution to the Multnomah County Joint Office of Homeless Services; Mayor Ted Wheeler ordered all Bureaus to present lists of which services and programs would be eliminated to make up the difference.
"And, once again, here we are; this cycle of closing threats has been going on for a long time," mused Gail Hoffnagle.
"Unlike the Woodstock Community Center (which is run remotely from the Mt. Scott Community Center at S.E. Harold and 72nd), here at Sellwood we've been fortunate enough to have funding instructors, and classes and programs; but still, 15 years is a long time to have community centers threatened financially at regular intervals and to still be under financial siege," Hoffnagle told THE BEE.
"In some way, it's as if PP&R thinks of community centers like ours as being 'optional programs', instead focusing on large facilities such as at Mount Scott," mused Hoffnagle. "But really, the purpose of the community center is to engage neighbors in the community where it's located."
True, Hoffnagle agreed, the building, originally built as a YMCA and a boarding house long ago, is old. "Still, generations of kids have gone to pre-school here, including my mother, and myself!" The building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
PP&R has complained that the building is in poor condition. "That's because they've been dragging their heels in this for some time, put off fixing things, and calling it 'deferred maintenance'; but if they let it deteriorate to the point it becomes unusable, it will be closed," Hoffnagle said.
The building has no elevator, but this and other deficiencies could be solved, she pointed out. "Our 'Friends' group wants to help with funding, but it kills the momentum of gathering money when, year after year, the city says it will be shut down." Besides, the city wants the committee to hand over any money it has to the Parks Department, to use any way it wants, without restriction.
"These people coming to the rally really show how much they value all community centers, whether large or small," Hoffnagle pointed out. "We really need to keep neighborhood-located indoor spaces where people can come and enjoy social time, and different kinds of activities, and learn sports and skills."
By the time the rally ended, many people did take action: In support of keeping Sellwood and Woodstock open, "We collected 165 petition signatures and have nearly 500 postcards to send to the City Council," reported Friends of Woodstock Community Center's Financial Manager, Pete Adams.
Keeping the center going hinges on the involvement of even more Sellwood neighbors by writing, sending e-mails, and calling the Commissioners and Mayor, Hoffnagle suggested.
Also, neighbors are invited to sign a petition online – tinyurl.com/Save-PPR-Centers.
And, it really makes a big difference, Hoffnagle said, when people just show up at City of Portland Community Budget Forums and "pack the room" with support for the Centers, since in those cases, city officials are there to see this support for themselves:
April 3, 2018, 6:30pm-8:30pm
David Douglas High School - South Cafeteria
1403 S.E. 130th Avenue
April 17, 2018, 6:30pm-8:30pm
Roosevelt High School
6941 N. Central Street
Elizabeth Ussher Groff contributed to this article.