MANATEE -- New Path Academy became one step closer to acquiring and operating the Rubonia Community Center on Friday.
The evaluation committee, which is chaired by Cheri Coryea, the county's neighborhood services director, met for the second time Friday to discuss the sole proposal submitted to the county to acquire and operate the center, 1309 72nd St. E., which has been closed since 2013.
After reviewing the 44 follow-up questions answered by New Path Academy, in partnership with Rubonia Community Association and the Panda Foundation, the committee, which is also comprised of Charlie Bishop, property management director and Maggie Daniell, senior fiscal services manager in the property management department, elected to make a recommendation to County Administrator Ed Hunzeker to move forward. The county commission will have final approval.
"I can't thank you enough," Bishop said to the New Path Academy, Rubonia Community Association and the Panda Foundation representatives present Friday. "I think it's going to be a win-win for everybody. We are excited to move this along."
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New Path Academy, in partnership with the two other organizations, wants to "provide senior services, before and after school care, teen services and sports programs ranging from recreational to intramural to competitive," according to the proposal.
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.
While New Path Academy has no plans to apply for funding through children's services, they are requesting $58,565 from the county general fund to contribute to necessary repairs to make the building habitable. New Path Academy will contribute $88,065 toward the repairs with the Panda Foundation giving $25,000 and the Rubonia Community Association giving $15,000.
The closed community center as well as poor drainage and lack of sidewalks are among concerns of Rubonia residents. New Path Academy CEO Jennifer Radebach said the nonprofit is eligible for government loans, which they are in the process of getting approved for them to possibly help in other areas.
"New Path Academy will fix the ditches in Rubonia and add sidewalks," she said. "That's our goal besides the community center itself."
At Friday's evaluation committee meeting, some members of the Rubonia community asked whether the center will remain as a community center. Coryea said legally New Path Academy will not be able to do anything other than that.
"Our sole proposal is the Rubonia Community Center is to stay within the community," Radebach said.
Coryea said it's been a good process for the county.
"I think the community can feel a lot better that the doors aren't going to close in a year for lack of funds," Coryea said.
Mary Brown, chairwoman of the Rubonia Community Association, thanked the county for taking the time.
"We still have a lot of work to do, but we are going to open the Rubonia Community Center and you will be able to come out and see we are progressing," she said.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.