A safe space for kids
LACOOCHEE - For years, decades even, it was a pie-in-the-sky dream. But this year Lacoochee will get a new community center. Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Jennie Yingling said the kids were still in disbelief until Wednesday, when she brought them to Stanley Park to see the sign for the center. "They kept asking if it was really happening," she said. "They're just so excited." Morrick Construction will start groundwork this month for the 16,000-square-foot building, with vertical construction to start by May 1. The Tampa firm, which built the George Steinbrenner Boys & Girls Club in Tampa, beat out four other firms for the job.At a kickoff ceremony Thursday, President Ron Morrick told assembled dignitaries he was humbled to be involved in such a worthy project. Lacoochee is one of the most impoverished communities in Pasco County, but community leaders helped raise $550,000 in private donations for the club. "I promise you when this club opens and you see the results and the difference you made to these children's lives, you will see this has been the best investment you've ever made," Morrick said. "Let's break this cycle. Let's give these kids an opportunity." Boys & Girls Club President Ronnie Deese said the new center would allow the club to serve as many as 100 children. It also will have space for a health clinic, a sheriff's department substation and an office for the department's Officer Friendly. Pasco County contributed $300,000 for the project, and Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford secured $1 million in state funding. "This community is going to transform in the next 10 to 15 years," state Sen. Wilton Simpson said. "We're going to develop jobs and necessary infrastructure, and a community center where children can play every day in a safe environment." The building will have a gymnasium, a community room, a computer lab and a full-service kitchen large enough to host the county's elderly nutrition program, which offers free lunches to anyone older than 65. Deese said the club needed to raise another $50,000 to pay for the kitchen equipment, but Joy McCann Foundation has already pledged $25,000 for the project. "They came up here for a tour," he said. "They're very excited about it."
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