Residents worry about community center's fate

Phillips community center
Hodan Waaeys (left) and Khadijais Maiz, take a break from soccer to grab a drink and hang out on the bleachers. The girls are concerned about where they will go after school until the Philips Community Center re-opens in May.
MPR Photo / Laura Gill

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board announced this week it's closing the Phillips neighborhood community center for repairs, and residents are worried about what this could mean for the facility's future.

The park district is spending $500,000 dollars to repair the boiler and roof at the Phillips Pool and Gym. Area district director Dick Mammen expects the center to reopen in May.

The "pool" in the center's name is the Park District's only indoor pool, abandoned behind a locked door.

A wobbly-looking basketball hoop stands in the middle of the drained pool. It'll stay like this even after the boiler and roof are fixed.

"If we went underneath you can see where it's rusted out and the actual foundation of the thing is gone, Mammen said. "You'd have to gut it and replace it entirely."

The Boys and Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities ran the center for 20 years, until last year, when they didn't renew a lease with the park district.

Phillips pool
The pool at the Phillips community center hasn't been used in years.
MPR Photo / Rupa Shenoy

Mammen got district programs started there last summer.

"I look at us closing this building as a temporary phenomenon while we renovate," he said. "I see this as hopefully something as this building will be reborn. We're not giving up on this center. "

Many residents are skeptical. They're voicing long-held suspicions the park district neglects facilities in low-income, minority neighborhoods.

Roughly a third of Phillips's residents are poor. The area includes one of the largest urban American Indian populations in the country. It also has many African Americans, Somalis, Hmong and Latinos.

The Phillips neighborhood is also home to an estimated 7,000 children that all sides say should be kept off the streets.

Phillips rec center
The Phillips neighborhood is home to more than 7,000 youth, some of whom say they'll travel to other neighborhoods while the community center is closed down.
MPR Photo / Rupa Shenoy

Emily Kneath says when Phillips closes, she and her friends will go to nearby Peavey or Stewart Park community centers.

"So it's going to be hard," she said. "I'm going to go to stay at Peavey Park for a while because there's no other place."

Community advocates say over the years the park district failed to act on several plans for the neighborhood.

Three years ago, residents convinced the legislature to devote more than $3.5 million to a new East Phillips community building. Residents and park officials went back and forth for months over the building's location and layout. The facility should be completed in a year.

"The neighborhood residents have been filled up to their eyebrows with frustration with the park board and it's been a cat and mouse game," said Robert Albee, a volunteer for a neighborhood group.

Soccer practice
Nabila Yousuf (center) practices soccer in the Philips Community Center gym. She plays for the Halgan United, the first girls soccer team at the community center.
MPR Photo / Laura Gill

Albee, who is retired from community development work and lives in Phillips, says the community believes the park district let Phillips fall into disrepair.

"We recognize that they've let the building get to the point where they have to close it," he said. "But what we want to do is say 'When are you going to open it, and under what circumstance are you going to open it, and how are we going to partner to ensure that it's a sustainable situation?"

Mammen says plans aren't always funded -- and that happens throughout the city.

"I understand why people are skeptical," he said. "I also know from working with them I understand how hard it is to meet people's perceived needs in terms of what they want to do. So it is a process of relationship and negotiation and coming to some mutual expectation.

"We can do that. We should do that. But they've got to work with us to do that."

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