MANATEE -- Lifelong Rubonia resident Morris Goff believes a reopened Rubonia Community Center will help unite the community.
Thursday afternoon, Goff's hope to see that open community center -- closed since 2013 -- came one step closer to reality.
New Path Academy, in partnership with Rubonia Community Association and the Panda Foundation, submitted the only proposal to acquire and operate the community center, 1309 72nd St. E. Proposals were due at 4 p.m. Thursday.
"Our program will allow them to continue to use their Rubonia Community Center," said Derrick Heard, vice president of operations for New Path Academy. "This is a win for the Rubonia community and the Rubonia Community Association."
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New Path Academy, a nonprofit, has four facilities in Manatee County serving more than 1,300 children from preschool through 12th grade, according to the nonprofit's website. Details of the Rubonia proposal, including dollar amounts, were not made public Thursday.
When Goff found out only one proposal had been submitted, he was shocked. On July 9, about 15 people had attended an information conference followed by a site tour.
"The people of Rubonia will have a home again for everybody, not just the kids," Goff said. "It's great news. ...The center is going to be what's going to bring us back together."
The Rubonia neighborhood is off U.S. 41, between Palmetto and Interstate 275. The center, which needs more than $133,300 in repairs, was deeded to the county from the Manatee County
School Board last October. In its "invitation to negotiate," the county was looking for a party who would be responsible for privately operating the Rubonia Community Center as a community center.
New Path Academy plans to run programs for all ages, Heard said, which is something the Rubonia community wanted.
"The proposal is great because it is going to run parallel to what we want to do," Goff said.
Teen services, senior services, after-school tutoring and athletic programs are among the types of programs that would be operated at the center, Heard said.
"I think if we win this proposal, then this will go a long way to encourage the people of Rubonia that they don't have to burn something to be recognized," Heard said.
County staff will evaluate New Path Academy's proposal. The Rubonia Community Center is the first property where Manatee County has solicited proposals through the invitation-to-negotiate process.
Charlie Bishop, the county's property management department director, said an evaluation committee probably will meet within the next month. The committee will then make a recommendation to the county administrator to either negotiate with the nonprofit or not proceed. The county commission will have final approval.
"Our plan is to expedite this as quickly as possible," Bishop said Thursday. "We know the community is anxious to have this open."
Rubonia residents have expressed their concerns that the center should remain with the community.
"I think that's absolutely important that the community of Rubonia will have some say," Heard said, heralding the partnering with the Rubonia Community Association. "That's one of the reasons we sought to partner."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.