RALEIGH — The kids playing on the playground on Halifax Street don’t seem to care much about what it looks like. They just want to have a place to play.
Most of the kids at summer camp at the newly renovated Halifax Community Center are too young to remember what the building was like a few years ago. But Eddie and Verdine Harper, who live across the street, have seen the entire process of rebuilding from their front porch.
“They had a lot of riff-raff over there,” Verdine Harper said. “Now it looks one hundred percent better.”
The Halifax Community Center reopened this week after nearly two years of construction. The improved facilities include an upgraded gym, a lobby area and 7000 extra square feet of space. The new building was built on the site of the original community center, which was built in 1972. According to staff, the old building was in bad shape when it was designated for renovation.
“The preexisting facility was just not adequate,” project manager Shawsheen Baker said.
She described the narrow, windowless hallway that visitors entered through and the cramped restrooms that could not accommodate more than a few people – a distinct inconvenience in a building that hosts summer camps for children and popular free play volleyball nights on Fridays, among other programs.
“It’s really night and day,” Baker said.
Although the official reopening and dedication of the Halifax Community Center will take place Wednesday, June 25th at 5:30 p.m., the building opened on Monday for summer camp, which is at full capacity with fifty-five children registered.
In addition to the gym and increased space, the community center features a new playground, a warming kitchen, a weight room and shower facilities. It also now boasts its own parking lot and a large dividable classroom with improved audiovisual and computer equipment.
According to City Councilmember Eugene Weeks, who has been involved with the project from the outset, the upgrades were a direct response to feedback from public surveys.
“It’s exactly what the community and the citizens of Raleigh asked for,” he said.
Baker estimates that the project costs totaled $4 million, over $3 million of which was provided by the 2007 Parks and Recreation Bond referendum. The remaining funds were provided by revenue from facility fees and by the Public Works and Public Utilities Departments.
The process for revamping the community center has taken nearly seven years, including the original push for funding in 2007. A feasibility study conducted in 2009 determined that the best option for improvement would be to tear down the original building and build a new one. Construction began in 2012, a year after the center’s 40-year lease from the Raleigh Housing Authority was renewed for another 40 years.
Facility supervisors Chris Moore and Emily Collins say the response to the reopening has been overwhelmingly positive so far.
“A lot of people come by just to see what’s in the building,” Moore said.
Collins expressed hope that the revitalized center would engage the community, a sentiment echoed by Councilmember Weeks.
“This center needed to be replaced,” he said. “This put a new light into the area over there.”
Not that the kids on the playground are thinking about all that. They seem content just playing.