"Blind" Boone Community Center seeks federal funds for renovations

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 | 8:58 p.m. CDT; updated 3:07 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — The J.W. “Blind” Boone Community Center could receive significant structural renovations if a federal community development grant that the center plans to apply for is approved.

The application has not yet been finalized by the Columbia Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners. The maximum amount of grant money the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development could give the center is about $125,000, said Ron Schmidt, training and development coordinator for the housing authority.

The aim of the renovations would be to use space in the community center more effectively and to eliminate areas where children are hidden from sight when they use the center. In addition to the grant money, the center would also use some of its own funds and ask for help from donors to pay for these changes.

“Safety and functionality are our primary concerns,” said Phil Steinhaus, chief executive officer of the Columbia Housing Authority. “We are concerned about aesthetics, too, but that shouldn’t cost that much in comparison to the other renovations we’d like.”

Schmidt said that retrofitting the old building with some of the technologies that the center desires to have will be costly.

“I’d guess this project is going to be about $150,000, but who knows what pieces will be in there because two components could be valued close to that just on their own, and we may decide to bump items like that out (of the application),” he said.

Schmidt also expressed concerns about the layout of the building. He found issues with the front door, which faces Providence Road and is on the opposite side of the building from the parking lot that most people use. He said that the back door has been redefined as the front door over time, as many people feel isolated when entering through the window pane doors.

“Most people don’t use the front door to enter the building,” he said. “Our offices are right next to the back door, and people like to be greeted when they enter. That leaves us with a lot of unused space from the window pane, and that area also has created some safety concerns.”

Other issues that Schmidt pointed out were the placement of an active hallway that cuts through a study area and outdated painting and decorations that exist throughout the building. Steinhaus said that by improving the aesthetics of the building, he thinks the people who use it would feel more valued and would also respect the building more.

Floid Larkins, a member of the center’s clerical class, said he thinks the building would better serve children if its space were better utilized.

“I haven’t been to school in about 20 years, and the teachers are really helpful,” he said. “(The renovations) are a big must because there are a lot of kids that come here, and there’s not enough room. It’ll be better for the kids if they made it more spacious.”

The Blind Boone Community Center is still in the process of completing the application for the grant. The deadline for the application is May 2.

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