Worthington-West Franklin Civic Center’s ‘here to stay’
WORTHINGTON — After a new board took over operation of the Worthington-West Franklin Civic Center in 2008, the naysayers in the small rural Armstrong County community predicted the community center’s end.
“Everyone said we’d be lucky to be here in six months,” said Al Croyle, chairman of the nonprofit Worthington-West Franklin Joint Parks and Recreation Authority, which oversees the old Worthington High School and Elementary School buildings and grounds for use as a community center.
And when word got out recently that the building’s highest rent-paying tenant, Moonlight Credit Union, was constructing a building nearby and moving into it early next year, authority officials were hearing it all over again.
But officials say they believe in the center and they think it has a future.
“The center has been here for 20 years,” Croyle said. “For more than 50 years — even from when it was a school before the Armstrong School District gave it to the community in 1985 — it was the heart of the community, and that isn’t changing.”
“We’re here to stay,” he said. “This community center — that’s what we’re calling it instead of a civic center — will close when the community no longer wants to support it and the community no longer cares if it’s here.”
The authority now owns the facility. It took ownership from former joint owners Worthington Borough and West Franklin Township.
The six-member board is appointed by the two municipalities. It’s made up of three members from each of the communities.
The board meets the third Tuesday of the month and welcomes residents to its meetings.
Although the center is losing the credit union, it has plenty of tenants remaining, including several private businesses. It is full and active with social services, youth and sports organizations, community groups, churches and clubs meeting under its roof. The Armstrong County Area Agency on Aging operates a busy senior center there. The Worthington-West Franklin Community Library is housed in the center.
The authority’s treasurer, Ed Totin, said the facility is making strides financially, but he thinks they must continue to bring in more revenue.
“When we took over the finances, we had to be business people,” Totin said. “We had to look at getting money to build up a little bit of a stockpile so we could do things we wanted to do for the community. The first thing we had to do was recover enough to pay our bills monthly. Then we could take the money and start rolling it back into the community.”
“We have to cover our expenses,” he said. “What we charge pays the utilities and insurance. Any maintenance needed comes after if we take in extra.”
“We’re breaking even every month for now.”
Totin said there is the gym floor to fix, new windows to install and the parking lot to repair.
The authority charges rent to its private business tenants and a small fee for using the facility for events such as weddings, birthday parties and holiday parties. Members are trying to get the word out that the facility is available to rent for any event.
They tell nonprofit tenants and anyone using it for meetings that while they’re not charging them, they’ll gladly accept donations.
“If we could give every one of our nonprofit tenants free rent, we would,” Totin said. “Donations don’t have to be monetary. If you can give us a few hours of your time, that’s good, too.”
While losing the credit union rent will lessen monthly revenue, Totin is optimistic new tenants will take its place and the center will be able to continue. A new, private business is moving in next month, he said.
Now that the authority owns the property, Totin said, officials can start pursuing grants as well.
“Keeping the center going is all about giving back to the community,” he said. “To be able to keep doing things in here. To give kids someplace to come to.”
The authority has plans for many different uses for the gym.
“We had a soccer team in here doing soccer practice on Thursday night and then a theater group here on Saturday night doing an event,” he said. “It was once a school, and we don’t want to lose sight of that. That goes hand in hand with what it is now — a community-oriented facility.”
“Whatever the community wants to do, we’re here for it,” Croyle added.
Moonlight Credit Union chief operating officer Candy Decock said her company would continue to support the community center.
“Just because we’re moving down the road, we’re not going to desert this building or the cause of this building or the community,” she said. “I want to stay in the thick of things. I want us to be known in this community.”
Totin said he wants to be able to tell his children that their grandfather played baseball in the same field where they’re playing baseball. And when you walk into the center now, it says welcome to you, he said.
“How many communities have a place like that?”