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Center readies for grand opening
Whew! It's finally over.

Nearly a decade of planning is over and Ceres finally has a 25,623-square-foot Community Center.

And what a center it is. Located at 2701 Fourth Street, the Ceres Community Center is completed and ready for community life.

A Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony is set for 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday. The event will feature hors d'ouevres and include public tours, class and dance demonstrations, as well as barbershop singers performing.

Doug Lemcke, the city's director of Parks and Recreation, has been consumed with the project ever since coming to the city in March 2000. All the hard work has paid off.

"This is now the gem of downtown Ceres," said Lemcke.

The 17-room center's main features are:

• A large assembly room of 5,131 square feet that will be able to handle receptions, community gatherings, social affairs;

• A smaller assembly hall of 3,354 square feet with seating for 180 people; a second partition can split the room in half for dual use at the same time;

• A conference room that can seat 16 comfortably;

• City recreational staff offices;

• 12-station computer lab of 746 square feet for community use with internet access;

• Senior citizens drop-in room of 754 square feet where socializing and games can be played;

On the second floor is:

• A meeting room which could serve as a classroom with modular desks;

• A teen activity room, designed by the Ceres Youth Commission, where students can socialize and study.

• Recreational room with maple hardwood floors that will serve as a place to do instructional fitness such as ypga, pilates and gymnastics;

• Arts and crafts room with tile floors and washable walls where kids and adults can learn art mediums such as clay, acrylic, watercolor and oil painting. Lemcke envisions sewing classes and macrame classes being offered in the room.

"These programs could operate on a year round basis here," said Lemcke. "This facility will be serve a range of residents ranging from 4- to 5-year-olds to senior citizens."

Construction started on Oct. 22, 2007, delayed for years by plans that hit snags and turns. There was a lot of decision making to be made with the aid of considerable community input.

The city purchased the former Ceres Christian Church building for $1 million in March 2000 with the intentions to remodel it into a community center. Those plans fell apart when the building was deemed inadequate for the city's needs. After a series of scoping meetings where details of a rehabilitation were hammered out, the pricetag of the project climbed uncomfortably higher. A renovation would have cost an estimated $3.8 million but would not have been exactly what the city needed. Officials felt that for the money expended, it would be better to build what the community wants into a new structure.

The city hired RRM Design Group in Oakdale to design the new center. Costs for a new building soared so the city turned to the Ceres Redevelopment Agency to come up with funding.

Since construction started, Lemcke and various community members have chosen all the elements of interior design. By far the centerpiece of the design will be the fluted glass panels that are being manufactured in Germany at a cost of $250,000. And the 7-foot-diameter city logo in floor tiles costing approximately $6,500.

The first official ceremony was held May 8 when the Smyrna Lodge # 532 of the Free and Accepted Masons of California hosted a Cornerstone Laying Ceremony. At the ceremony a 50-year time capsule filled with memorabilia relating to Ceres was planted. The capsule is slated to be opened by the city on May 9, 2059.

The center will be the site of the Saturday evening "Red, White and Blue Gala," a semi-formal gala. The event will be hosted by the three largest service clubs in Ceres: The Ceres Lions, Ceres Rotary and Soroptimist International of Ceres. Tickets will be $50 per person and will include appetizers, dinner, dancing, dessert, and a raffle. The evening attire event will be held from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.,

Tickets may be purchased from club members and also at Bank of the West in Ceres or Strickler Real Estate. Those who would like to purchase a table or donate to the event, may call gala committee chair Bonnie White Silveria at 668-9367 or 568-7890.

The center has been nearly a decade in the making. The Courier first published its first story on the community's desire for a community center on Nov. 3, 1999 in "Ceres focuses on community center." In a Dec. 22, 1999 article, "City wins grant to study community center" then City Manager Tim Kerr spoke about the differences between a community center and the existing American Legion Memorial Building. Kerr was quoted as saying, "When I think of the American Legion Hall I think of a large gathering place. The difference I would make is this would be more of a multi-purpose facility, maybe with a large number of rooms, smaller offices. I think there is a need in the community to provide permanent homes to groups who don't have a home."

Now that construction phase is over, Doug Lemcke, director of Parks and Recreation, will be concentrating on promoting the use of the facility.

"The goal is to bring in $80,000 to $100,000 in revenue a year to offset operating costs," said Lemcke.

Most cities find that community centers are a financial drain on the city budget. Ceres officials expect losses for the first couple of years ($128,261 the first year, and $110,516 the second year and an estimated $100,000 the third year) but hope the center can become self-sufficient. To cover losses for three years the city crafted a plan to free up $374,000 in Ceres Redevelopment Agency funds to fund the center's operating deficit for three years. How did they do it? They sold the historic Daniel Whitmore home - the first ever home built in Ceres - to the CRA.

To get out word that the center can be rented for wedding receptions, anniversary and birthday parties and business seminars, the city will be posting a virtual tour on the city website.

Due to budget problems at City Hall, the city has scrapped plans to hire a full-time and part-time coordinators. Existing staff of Lemcke, Cara Butler, Cambria Pollinger and Traci Dayton-Farris will set up office in the center to help run programs.

Besides private rentals, the center will be the hub of community activities such as medical screenings, seminars and other events. The center also offers a senior lounge for games and TV screen as well as an upstairs teen room.

The city is trying to generate funds by selling room-naming rights to businesses and corporations for $2 per square foot per year. The large assembly room could be named for $10,000 a year, estimated Lemcke.