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Future of Elkhart youth center undecided

Parts of a local youth center in Elkhart will be torn down Monday.
Posted on March 9, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on March 9, 2013 at 4:55 p.m.

ELKHART — Plans for the future of a local youth center are still being discussed five months after the center’s building was damaged by a fire.

Some parts of the building that housed Lifeline Youth for Christ in downtown Elkhart will be torn down Monday, March 11, at 7:30 a.m., said Lifeline executive director Darrell Peterson.

“The rubble has been cleared, the insurance claim filed and accepted, and talks have begun for the new building,” he said in a statement.

The building was severely damaged in a fire the early morning of Sept. 23, 2012. The gymnasium is the only part of the building that is salvageable, but the clubhouse and office will be torn down on Monday.

Prior to the demolition, there will be a time for reflection and prayer at the gymnasium, Peterson said. Anyone from the community is invited to attend.

“There are a lot of people who just want to say goodbye.”

Because the building was deemed unfit for use, the organization has accommodated by using different locations for its activities. Since the fire, Lifeline has seen a 25 percent growth in the number of children who attend, Peterson said.

The temporary locations for Lifeline activities are Mary Beck Elementary School and the Roosevelt Center for elementary clubs and junior and senior high school boy clubs. Members of junior and senior high girl’s club meet at the Lifeline parking lot, where they receive a ride to a meeting place.

The next step is to figure out whether the building will be rebuilt or if Lifeline will be relocated.

Peterson said there have been talks about possibly buying adjacent properties to the building and expanding. Because of zoning and building code enforcement limitations, it may not be possible to expand or even rebuild on the same site.

There is a chance that Lifeline will move to another location, but Peterson said it will remain in the downtown area. And while there has been talk of some alternative locations, Peterson said possible locations will not be shared with the public until further discussion determines whether sites meet requirements.

“We’re going to find a place, we’re going to make sure that it fits all of our requirements.”

The gymnasium will be restored. Peterson said he would like to make it available for other not-for-profit organizations if they need it.

“There are other not-for-profits in town who could probably use it as well,” he said. “We’re all about collaboration and we’re all about community.”

The owners of the two other properties that were damaged by the fire missed the deadline to clean up the properties.

They were given 90 days since the end of the investigation from the fire department to clean their properties, but so far nothing has been cleaned.

Janet Bayes, senior code enforcement officer, said the apartment building on the corner of Division and East streets must be torn down because of the substantial damage it received. While Peterson said there is no set time frame for reconstruction or relocation, he said he does hope all the planning is done this year and construction or relocation is completed by 2014.

Whatever the changes are, Peterson reiterated that Lifeline is more than a building.

“It’s not based on a location. It’s based on what happens at that location, and I think the greatest thing about Lifeline is that the vision and the mission are exactly the same as they were 50 years ago.”

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