MANATEE -- Supporters of the closed Rubonia Community Center have been lobbying Manatee County commissioners to reopen it.
A handful of citizens met with Commissioners Betsy Benac, Carol Whitmore and John Chappie, while Commissioner Michael Gallen said he visited Rubonia recently to discuss its future with residents.
"I was speaking with them about the importance to the people in the area, and how the surrounding people felt about it being closed," said Alberta McIntosh, part of the group lobbying for reopening the center. "We're just really trying to get them to put aside a little money until we can put together a plan."
Budget problems forced the center at 1309 72nd St. E. to close in 2012. Roughly 15 children who had attended its afterschool program were transferred elsewhere.
With a special allocation OK'd by county commissioners, it reopened in February with exercise and nutrition programs, plus games and other fun for adults.
"About 30 to 35 people a day (came). We had lots of people that was coming, even some younger people in the area came out, I was glad to see," said McIntosh. "It was nice to have them there."
However, when money ran out June 14, the center shut down again and remains closed.
"I personally, and I think most commissioners, want this community center to stay open for the community," Gallen said Friday. "I don't want to see it go away. It's a definite jewel in the community."
The nonprofit Rubonia Community Association wants to operate the center, but stumbling blocks must be addressed first, said Gallen.
The property is owned by the Manatee County School Board, so its future partly lies with school board members, said Gallen.
"We're checking with the school board to see what their intention is," said Gallen. "Perhaps the school board could give it to us, and we could give it to the community."
Whoever operates the center must pay maintenance and operational costs such as paying workers and providing electricity and water, he said,
"So, they would need to have a plan before we do that," Gallen said.
Part of the money puzzle comes from changing neighborhood demographics: Because Rubonia has fewer children and more senior citizens, certain youth program funding is unavailable, officials have said.
Rubonia, located between wealthier areas, does not qualify for federal monies through the Community Development Block Grant program, which provides low-income areas with resources to address a wide range of needs.
Until recently, the center has been managed by the nonprofit United Community Centers Inc. in conjunction with the county. UCC also owns and operates the newly constructed Dream Center at Norma Lloyd Park in Bradenton. Some members of the Rubonia Community Association have been critical of Patrick Carnegie, UCC president and chief executive officer, for what they say is neglect of the center and Rubonia residents.
"We cannot work with Patrick," said Deon Mack, vice president of the Rubonia Community Association. "If he were doing his job, the center would be open. He'd find some type of way to keep it open."
Carnegie said Saturday the Rubonia center closure was a simple matter of too little money.
"You can't run a program without money," said Carnegie.
As for working with Mack and the Rubonia Community Association, Carnegie said his organization operated the Rubonia center successfully for 18 years before its recent troubles.
"Our track record speaks for itself," he said. "We work with many different groups and have for years."
Whitmore said she hopes something will be done to reopen the center.
"These people want a place to go, not just for children, but for the elderly," she said. "I think the county would be happy to give it to the community. Nobody is doing anything with it. Why not let the citizens use it? It's only right."
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.