• The $150,000 grant, if accepted, could breathe new life into troubled city building
By Naomi Klouda
A new glimmer of hope for obtaining funding to fix the old junior high school building where the Homer Boys and Girls Club meet was proposed at the Homer City Council meeting Monday night.
The council approved a measure giving the green light for the city administration to apply for a $150,000 Community Development Block Grant.
Community and Economic Development Coordinator Katie Koester has a Dec. 7 deadline for the grant. The plan is to seek money for making basic improvements on the Homer Education and Recreation Center building, called HERC.
Natasha Ana, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Kenai Peninsula, said the hope is to fix flooring, the kitchen and bathrooms.
“The flooring has had damage from flooding in the past. The bathrooms at the Boys and Girls Club (portion) need stalls replaced. I don’t think there’s been anything done to them since maybe the 1950s,” Ana said. “They definitely need some priority attention. The bathrooms are designed strangely with a back room in each one.”
The goal would be to reconfigure space so there’s no place kids can go off and not be chaperoned, Ana said. They also would like to replace windows for better heat efficiency.
“If money is left over, it would be great if we could get a new refrigerator for the kitchen,” she added.
Koester talked to the council about the benefits and drawbacks of applying for this Community Block Grant of $150,000. The money is administered by the state but funded by the federal government. It has to serve at least 50 percent low or moderate income people. It would require a $50,000 match from the city.
The council has had many years in lengthy discussions about what to do with this city asset – or liability. The HERC building was given to the City of Homer by the Kenai Peninsula Borough for $1. The HERC is not up to code for some uses. It’s received some energy upgrades and not others. The council has looked into the feasibility of what it would take to bring the building up to code.
“We’re hoping the city will see this as an investment for the community,” Ana said. If the Community Parks and Rec Program were based in the school, it would be the beginning of creating a community center.
“It could be a positive thing to have these organizations in one place for providing these services,” she said. The kitchen, if upgraded, would be appropriate for social functions and may offer options for local groups to make value-added products like jams and jelly. And linked with the People’s Garden project involving the kids, it takes on another social dimension.
But Mayor Beth Wythe feels asking for a Community Block Grant may be putting the “cart before the horse” since other matters are not decided about the building’s ultimate future role.
The Homer Boys and Girls Club will be asking for an extension since its lease is expected to expire in December. The club has existed in an insecure position as the City wrestles with what tenants to seek or accept for the building.
Kelly Cooper, who chairs the Boys and Girls Club board, advocated for the block grant. The children it serves “need that space. They need that gym,” she said.
It will be several months out before learning of whether Homer is accepted for receiving the block grant, Koester told the council, since a lengthy review process lies ahead. The city is also awaiting an architectural survey that will outline what will be necessary to bring the building up to code for its long-term use. In the meantime, Koester was authorized to move ahead with the grant application.
Koester also had proposed seeking a mini grant to help lower income elderly pay for natural gasline hookups. But there were problems with the eligibility requirements since it would supply funding to individuals and not to a group of individuals. The council removed it as a proposal.
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