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The city of Ceres is moving forward on the Community Center project with a contractor aboard.

The city is going with J.L. Bray & Sons which submitted the lowest bid of $6,845,000. A contract is expected to be awarded on Sept. 24.

"We actually felt that is pretty good considering we added on square footage for the council chambers," said Doug Lemcke, director of Parks, Recreation and Facilities.

The 25,623-square-foot Community Center is projected to be completed in an 18-month building program, meaning an opening in March 2009.

Part of the delay in building was last-minute additions to accommodate future City Council meetings. The city has planned for an enlarged 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 allows the city to use the space for more offices.

City officials are hopeful that construction of the new community center in downtown Ceres is the impetus for private investment there.

"I think if we have a place in downtown Ceres where people can go, that it will spark some commercial activity down there," said Mayor Anthony Cannella.

Cannella said a community center can do lots to create interest in an area, pointing out the changes that occurred in downtown Modesto after the civic center was built there.

"The city needs to say we believe in downtown and will work with individual property owners," said Cannella.

Doug Lemcke, who's spent years as director of Parks, Recreation and Facilities working on the center, says the two-story center will be a key community focal point where large crowd can gather for speakers and plays, where seniors can play cards, where teens can host activities, and where the public can learn arts and engage in recreation.

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

On the first floor will be a 746-square-foot computer room with 12 computers for use by the community. Lemcke anticipates instructors teaching the use of computer programs and the internet.

A 754-square-foot room will be where senior citizens can gather to play cards and bingo and have lunch, as they presently do at the Ceres American Legion Memorial Building.

The first floor contains office space for city recreation staff members and another conference room for public meeting use that totals 433 square feet, large enough to accommodate 29 people.

The second floor will contain another 726-square-foot meeting room, a classroom to seat 44 persons, a recreation/fitness room, teen activity room and arts and crafts room.

The Ceres Youth Commission, said Lemcke, is helping to design the room and be responsible for its care.

"We had several meetings with them. They would like to see some study areas and sitting and talking areas but not a lot of active things like pool tables and such."

Lemcke said the center will be a place where city recreation programs are offered, such as aerobics, fitness classes, yoga, self defense, boxing and pilates - all with professional instructors. It's his intent to offer fingerpainting, oil painting, knitting, crocheting and other arts and crafts activities.

The city is investing $6.2 million - from redevelopment agency issued bond indebtedness - to build the center. Equipment and furniture will be another $500,000 and the council has purchased the parking lot at the northwest corner of Fourth and North streets for $400,000.

The quest to build a community center has taken years. The city intended to remodel the former Ceres Christian Church building into the new Ceres Community Center. The city shelled out $1 million for the property. But after a series of public meetings where details of a rehabilitation were hammered out, the pricetag shot up to $3.8 million. The firm that the city hired to draw up remodel plans, RRM Design Group, suggested that the city build a larger modern center that the community would be pleased with. By spending $6.2 million, the city could buy an ideal layout with a 33 percent larger floor plan.