A celebratory day coming to Rubonia

The Rubonia Community Center will soon be crawling with children as the center prepares to reopen its doors to the community.
The Rubonia Community Center will soon be crawling with children as the center prepares to reopen its doors to the community. gjefferies@bradenton.com

Monday will be a triumphant day in Rubonia. The impoverished and historic neighborhood just north of Palmetto will celebrate the rebound of the Rubonia Community Center with a special ribbon-cutting ceremony. The neighborhood centerpiece, shuttered since 2013, reopens after Manatee County government stepped up with funding for repairs of the deteriorating building.

“Do something,” one resident implored of the county just this past March. “Show that we’ve been heard,” Cathey Mathis told county commissioners and other officials at a special meeting in Rubonia. One month later, the hopes of the restoration of the community center fell apart when a nonprofit’s plan disintegrated in April.

For months and months, the county had been balking at paying the high price for vital center renovations. But in May commissioners unanimously approved $75,000 in building and grounds work, including new air conditioners, a new kitchen, windows, plumbing, ceiling, doors, furniture, a baseball field and a temporary roof repair. That’s how far the center had deteriorated. Residents had been struggling for years to resurrect the center to no avail.

To be fair, the county only acquired ownership of the center in August 2014 after the school district transferred possession. After the county’s bid to find a permanent operator failed, officials began working with the Rubonia Community Association to work out a solution.

This Editorial Board has been highly critical of the county for neglecting Rubonia for decades. That has decidedly changed, at least with the community center project. Kudos to county commissioners and administrators for attending to this important neighborhood need, now and in the future. The county has committed additional funding to complete renovations. Plus, the community association created a GoFundMe page to raise money to keep the center open.

Monday morning’s ceremony also marks the first day of the summertime youth drop-in program at the center. The county contributed more than $22,000 for the eight-week summer program, further evidence of a new commitment to a once long overlooked community.

Residents still clamor for sidewalks along narrow streets for safety’s sake and poor stormwater drainage from inferior ditches. Remedies could be forthcoming should the county get the cooperation of residents in a census survey to determine if the neighborhood qualifies for federal Community Development Block Grant funding. Let’s hope that happens, too, building on the reopening of the community center.

Finally, a North River pool

Speaking of a community clamoring for a youth-oriented asset only government can supply, residents north of the Manatee River desire a public swimming pool. And have for years, a remarkably familiar refrain.

Backyard pools are omnipresent in Florida. Public pools are few and far between. Manatee County operates three — in Bradenton. Change appears to be in the works. This week, county commissioners zeroed in on a five-year capital improvement program that includes a public pool somewhere north of the river, the location to be determined.

The price tag is steep, an estimated $4.5 million. Once the capital master parks plan is complete, the county would begin surveying properties for acquisition. But the time frame is long, with final construction tentatively set in 2020.

Don’t buy that swimsuit anytime soon. But at least the county is addressing a sorely needed quality-of-life public asset in a place where people complain that travel to one of the county pools is out of the question.

Quote of the week

“We have all been emotionally scarred, terrorized not only by the events that happened on Sunday but simply by being LGBT or Q. Living here today in Florida, or for that matter in America, we commend the courage of all of you who are standing here tonight. We respect and esteem everyone who, in today’s world, has the courage to be out.”

— Valerie Fisher of Prism Youth Initiative, which empowers LGBTQ youth ages 13-23 in Manatee County, speaking at a Sarasota candlelight vigil Monday in memory of the victims of the massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.