By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Community Center breaks ground
The new Community Center - which broke ground on Thursday - will not only add a bit more class to the city's recreational offerings but should be a catalyst for interest in revamping downtown Ceres. Those are the hopes of city officials who will be conducting a grand opening of the structure in March 2009.

"It's been a long time in coming," said a relieved Doug Lemcke, director of Parks, Recreation and Facilities, during Thursday's ground breaking ceremony. The city worked six years with community groups and non-profit organizations to design the center.

The City Council awarded a $6.85 million construction contract to J.L. Bray & Sons on Sept. 24. The 25,623-square-foot Community Center is projected to be completed in 18 months.

"We haven't had a Community Center since, I think, 1985, so this community has gone without a place to meet for far too long," said Mayor Anthony Cannella. He said the center will be one that Cereans will be proud of "for decades to come."

Cannella said the two-story structure will "have something for everyone." It will feature:

• A large assembly hall of 5,082 square feet, which will be rented out for parties and wedding receptions. The room can be set up to seat 315 theater style;

• A smaller assembly hall of 3,354 square feet with seating for 180 people;

• A computer lab of 746 square feet;

• A designated senior activities room of 754 square feet;

• A teen activities room;

• Offices for city recreation personnel;

• An arts and crafts room;

• Another conference room for public meeting use that totals 433 square feet, large enough to accommodate 29 people.

Cannella noted that a recent delay came about when the council decided to modify the center's design to accommodate City Council and Planning Commission meetings, which now are held in chambers at nearby City Hall. The city had RRM Design Group to enlarge an assembly room of 3,354 square feet to have a council dais, which can be sealed off by a moveable wall for other uses. Removing the council chambers from its existing location will allow the city to use the space for more offices.

"It'll bring a sense of community," said Councilman Chris Vierra of the center. "I'm looking forward to it."

Vierra was viewing the site with an engineer's eye, saying he regretted the fact that utility lines ran in the center of the building site, limiting where the building can sit.

The quest to build a Community Center started years ago when the city purchased the former Ceres Christian Church property for $1 million with the intent to remodel it. But those plans changed when it was learned that the building had severe limitations and had asbestos that needed to be removed.

"Once RRM showed us what that would look like," said the mayor, "we very quickly said, 'no, that's really not what we're looking for.' So we scrapped that plan and started on those new path."

Also attending the ceremony was Supervisor Jim DeMartini who brought along a certificate of congratulations signed by all five county supervisors.

"I can't wait to see the building when it's done," said DeMartini.

Harris & Associates has been hired as the construction manager.

"This new center will add to the quality of life for numerous Ceres residents," said Cannella, "will be the central meeting place for our community, should encourage downtown development and will be a facility for all of our residents to be proud of.

"This council and many councils before us have put an emphasis on downtown. We're taking steps, I think, to create the downtown that we all want. It's a real unused jewel in the city of Ceres."

City Manager Brad Kilger said he feels the center will help downtown.

"Part of the concept of redevelopment is that you use some of the redevelopment dollars to jumpstart the local economy by partnering with the private sector to increase value," said Kilger.

The city recently hired Berkeley consulting firm of Design, Community & Environment (DC&E) to develop the vision as well as an implementation strategy to tap into the potential of downtown Ceres. For $350,000 the firm will conduct a comprehensive analysis of existing and potential markets for retail, office and residential, as well as traffic, parking and infrastructure issues. The firm will draw up a plan to develop downtown into something new and exciting, said Kilger.

"While this (center) is not a commercial venture, it heightens interest that the city is interested in downtown," said Kilger. "People drive through the downtown. It's nice and quiet but you don't see a whole lot going on. So their initial response is, 'maybe this isn't where I want to invest.' Well, all of a sudden they see this construction going on, start hearing about the downtown plan ... hopefully those two steps will start getting other people involved."