A home for the community center

Posted 12/20/23

After months of deliberation, the paperwork is in and the wheels are in motion for Cranston to get its new community center.

On Friday December 15, Mayor Hopkins’ office submitted a nearly …

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A home for the community center


After months of deliberation, the paperwork is in and the wheels are in motion for Cranston to get its new community center.

On Friday December 15, Mayor Hopkins’ office submitted a nearly $7.2 million grant application to Governor Mckee’s Pandemic Recovery Office Learn365RI program for the construction of a new 6,500 square foot building to serve as the Cranston community center. If the grant proposal is accepted, the center will be located Duckworth Street, on city property which is now a baseball field next to the Pastore Youth Center.

The location was chosen due primarily to its proximity to several extant community resources, such as the Pastore Center, the YMCA, and Bain Middle School, as well as its central location in Cranston. Though meets almost all of the prerequisites set by Learn365RI, the city council, and the mayor’s office, although it is not located within a quarter mile of a RIPTA line as stipulated by Learn365RI, it does sit within .4 miles, and the city plans to appeal to RIPTA for an additional stop. 

The grant application sent on the 15th is a revision of another sent weeks ago as a placeholder while details about location and programming were ironed out by the mayor’s office and city council. The new application goes into detail on the programming expected to be offered to meet the stipulations laid down by Learn365RI. Though many specifics for grant eligibility regarding programming are being left to Cranstonians, Learn365RI expects a five year commitment of consistent programming focusing on work, education, and healthcare. Cranstonians in surveys and public forums have been weighing in for months on what they would like to see available at the center. While all that is considered in the grant may be subject to change in the two years between now and the completion of the center, the city offered several possibilities for programming in conjunction with several local partners.

In the realm of employment, the grant cites that 80% of Cranstonians who took part in surveys wanted occupational skills taught at the community center. In conjunction with CCAP, the center would be able to offer a range of such training in numerous fields such as medical and dental assistantships, teacher’s assistant training, and IT tech training. Additionally, staff from Cranston/Providence Workforce Solutions would be able to provide services such as resume and job application assistance, veteran services, career planning, and job recruitment events.

The grant also notes that the center will come equipped with a multi-station computer lab with high speed internet, and free wi-fi throughout the center.

In the realm of education, the grant cites CCAP, as well as the Cranston Community Learning Center and the Cranston public libraries as potential resources for GED classes, college assistance, digital literacy financial literacy classes.

In the realm of healthcare, the city intends to form a clinic with the help of CCAP to assist Cranstonians in navigating the healthcare system. They intend to utilize “patient navigators” to act as a first point of contact with patients, directing them where to go to seek further care, and monitoring and assisting them as needed as they continue through the healthcare process. The building would feature private rooms with computer stations through which patients can take part in tele-health sessions. The grant lists as healthcare focuses for services at the center mental health services, behavioral and substance abuse services, women’s health services, and senior health services, all of which were frequently mentioned in surveys as priorities.

In a session of the City Council Finance Committee, Paul Dion the Director for the Pandemic Recovery Office, which plays a major part in organizing the plans for this proposed community center and others throughout the state, mentioned that healthcare programming should also focus on helping Cranstonians with public health needs brought on by the pandemic. He cited weight-loss as one example of such needs.

This grant application was submitted on the final day of an extension granted by Learn365RI, which bumped the deadline from October 10 to December 15. In order for the funding to go through, construction must be complete by October of 2026, and programming must have begun by the end of that same year. The city must also commit to five years holding relevant programming in the center, or the city will need to refund the grant money.

That same grant money, the $7.2 million, must only go to the construction of the community center. The grant funding cannot be used to fund programming, nor can it be used for the upkeep of the building after construction is completed. All such expenses will be the responsibility of the city. It is partially for that reason that the city is seeking out programming from so many other agencies. They hope to keep the cost to Cranston tax payers at a minimum.

The property on Duckworth Ave was a relatively new addition to the conversation regarding locations for the community center, with many city councilors not hearing about the location as a consideration until the finance committee meeting on December 4. The debate over location, which took place throughout 2023, included several possible sites for construction, or renovation. The majority of the conversation revolved around two possibilities in particular: Arlington Elementary, and the Park Theatre.

Arlington Elementary at its current location will be decommissioned as a school in 2025, with its students instead attending school at the new Gladstone building once construction is completed. That would leave the building, already on city property, vacant and available. However, in order for the renovation into a community center to be completed by the October 2026 deadline, construction would have had to begin while students were in the building, which would be both dangerous and distracting for the kids and teachers. The possibility was scrapped.

The Park Theatre was the most frequently discussed of any location, even after Mayor Hopkins said it was no longer a possibility. Hopkins first considered the idea as a way to revitalize the city landmark, but in order to do so, it would need to be purchased from former city councilman Ed Brady, which proved controversial. Additionally, Learn365RI stipulated that the community center building could not be used for for-profit ventures, which would bar the theatre from operating as a venue during the evenings anymore. In the end, the city council, which must approve any purchases of property by city government, decided that the community center should be built on property the city already owned, and the Park Theatre was scrapped as a possible location as well. 

Several other vacant city owned properties were considered, but for one reason or another failed to make the cut. At the December finance committee meeting, Chief of Staff for the mayor Anthony Moretti stated that even this location was not perfect, but that it was the only one that met all the needs and all the stipulations of all parties. If the grant is approved, construction on the community center will begin in spring of 2025 to be completed by October 2026, and up and running for Cranstonians by 2027.

Cranston Community Center 1

BALLPARK NO MORE: The site of the future Learn365RI community center for Cranston is currently a baseball field sitting next to the Pastore Youth Center and down the hill from Bain Middle School.

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