Could community control of Sellwood Center be model for Multnomah Arts Center?
Although Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) "defunded" the operation of the Sellwood Community Center over the summer, and said it would close for good on August 31, a stalwart group of supporters have worked quickly and tirelessly to take over the historic building, rename it Sellwood Community House, and continue many of the services offered therein.
In July, the volunteers and their attorney met with PP&R and City of Portland officials to reach a lease/purchase agreement for the facility, but at press time the formality of signed papers had not yet been completed.
At a volunteer appreciation gathering, held in Westmoreland's Fairlane Coffee on August 6, the SMILE Committee "Friends of Sellwood Community Center" heard Board Member Julie Currin's good news for the 30 volunteers attending.
"As you know, we're working to transition the Community Center from being a Portland Parks & Recreation facility to being run by an independent nonprofit organization under SMILE," Currin began.
She said that they'd offered a proposal, and PP&R made a counter proposal. "Basically, we're agreed on all points; it looks as if they will be leasing it to us.
"What's left is, now that both parties have agreed upon the terms of the lease, is when it will be finalized and signed," Currin told the group. "The city's legal department will review it, and then send it to us to review; no one is expecting any surprises."
The new nonprofit organization, overseen by the nonprofit neighborhood association, must now proceed as if the deal is done, Currin remarked, because time is so short before the September 1 date. "We're moving at full speed; Portland Parks has agreed to send a note to families who use the preschool, letting them know about the changes."
"As soon as we get up and running under the lease, and sort of catch our breath, we'll be working toward buying the building and property," Currin said. "We'd like to do that sooner, rather than later."
Asked how close PP&R and the City are to the signing of the deal, the Bureau's Community Relations Manager Jennifer Yocom replied, "We will be able to share more soon. We can comment on details, once a final agreement is signed."
PP&R Director Adena Long chimed in, "Public-private partnerships have long been part of our Parks system. The volunteers at Sellwood Community House and SMILE are stepping up to serve the community, and we look forward to continuing to work with them on this agreement."
If all has gone well, Sellwood Community Center will be making the first steps towards reopening as Sellwood Community House, and restoring essential preschool and after-school services formerly run by Portland Parks and Recreation, on the day after Labor Day, September 3.
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