Community center for Casino Road moves forward

EVERETT — Plans to build a community and services center in the Casino Road neighborhood are moving forward.

Volunteers of America Western Washington has led a three-year planning process, soliciting input from the surrounding community as well as other social services organizations like Catholic Community Services, the Boys &Girls Club and Cocoon House.

On Dec. 23, Bob Reese, the regional executive vice president of VOA, showed Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and the city council what the group calling itself Casino Road Stakeholders came up with.

The plan envisions a $12.8 million facility with a high school-size gym, a community kitchen, a police resource officer, classrooms, multi-purpose family and community rooms, and offices for social service providers.

Adults need a place to gather and children need to feel safe, and residents need a place where they can get needed services, Reese told the council.

Some programs in the neighborhood have become quite successful, such as the Casino Road Fútbol Academy, which plays and practices in nearby Walter E. Hall Park.

But other services, such as indoor gathering places for adults and children, are lacking.

“There is a tremendous amount of good taking place, a tremendous amount of community,” Reese said.

“At times it feels like the boy with his finger in the dike because the needs are great and the challenges immense,” he said.

There is a real need for a comprehensive standalone facility in the neighborhood, said Wendy McClure, the city’s Office of Neighborhoods coordinator.

While there are some groups in the area, such as the Boys &Girls Club and the Mukilteo YMCA, “none of those have the capacity for a community gathering space,” she said, which could be used for classes, or for community groups or residential associations to hold their own events.

In addition, few of the large apartment buildings that dominate the area have community rooms or other gathering places for the residents, she said.

“That’s one of the things that the community has identified that they’d like to have,” she said.

The Casino Road area is one of the densest parts of the city. The triangle between West Casino Road, Airport Road and Evergreen Way is home to 19,000 people, Reese told the council.

Almost half the families in the area are single- parent households, and 2,500 kids are living in low-income families, defined as having annual income below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

Horizon Elementary has seen its Latino population double from 2001-2013, with its shrinking population of white students now including a growing population of immigrants from Russia, Ukraine and other countries where English isn’t the first language, Reese said.

The plans presented to the council were just a conceptual design, but one drawn up by ARC Architects, a Seattle firm that also designed the Rose Hill Community Center in Mukilteo and the Domestic Violence Services shelter in Everett.

A proposed timeline would have site selection take place in the first half of 2016, with a potential opening date in mid-2018.

Reese said that he wasn’t asking the city for money yet, but added that there may be things that come before the council as the project develops.

The stakeholders group will be applying for Community Development Block Grants, among other funding sources, he said.

There are still a lot of uncertainties to work out, most important of which is the location for the future center.

Of four locations suggested by the community so far, none are ideal. The most popular idea, Walter E. Hall Park, has soccer fields built with state funds, and those can’t be repurposed without providing a similar amenity elsewhere in the neighborhood, Reese said.

Nonetheless, residents have been waiting a long time.

Sister Adelaide Mohammed, a longtime resident of the neighborhood who runs a small religious charity, Islamic Resources by Mail, said the community also suffers because most people don’t realize there isn’t already a full-service community center there.

Children in particular do not have adequate resources that a community center could deliver, Mohammed said.

“I am just on pins and needles waiting for its completion,” she added.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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