ELKHART— After more than a year since closing its doors, the Tolson Community and Youth Center is set reopen on Monday for which officials say it is bigger and better.
Dozens of city officials, business leaders and community members celebrated reopening of the community center on Elkhart’s south side with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday.
“We’re very excited about reopening this center to the public,” said Randy Norton, superintendent of Elkhart Parks and Recreation. “I believe that Tolson is the heart and soul of the community. The building is the body, but the programming is the heart and it’s extended beyond just the heart of the parks department it’s the heart of the city; it’s where people get to come and grow, learn and play.”
The Tolson Center closed its doors July of 2018 after the city council voted down funding request by Mayor Tim Neese to keep the center open the rest of the year.
But in May, the city council approved funds needed to reopen the center. Specifically, the council appropriated $85,000 from the Riverboat Fund to refurbish the center and make changes to accommodate the parks administration and $48,350 from the Park Fund to pay for a full-time staff leader and three part-time youth and adult monitor positions for the remainder of 2019.
Tours were given to all attendees to showcase the renovations the center has undergone since June.
Notably one of the improvements is a new entrance of Wagner Avenue to which officials say will provide motorists a safer alternative to the previous Benham Avenue entrance, which did not have a clear entry point for those traveling south.
The new space also includes a renovated lobby, program area and fitness area as well as additional recreation space. Aesthetic improvements include updated landscaping and new multi-use furnishing.
Since the renovations began, the Parks and Recreation Department has also relocated its offices, preciously in downtown Elkhart, to the center.
“We did this to save money because if we’re in another building we have to pay for two buildings,” Norton explained. “And by us being here, it’s easier for us to program and have supervision. Most parks and recreation departments throughout the country are housed in one of the recreation facilities so it just makes sense for us to be here.”
The center will offer 15 new programs for people of all ages, officials said, which will include everything from an after school programs, Lego clubs and library clubs as well as pickleball and social senior clubs.
“Whether you are 7 or 70 years old, when you walk through this renovated facility for the first time, I think you’ll be proud of this building's past and excited for the future,” Neese told the audience at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “This is the type of facility sends a message to current and prospective residents that we are a vibrant, welcoming community that offers abundant opportunities for all.”
While the center is back in business, renovations remain ongoing. This includes resurfacing basketball courts, updating exterior lighting, replacing windows, renovating the kitchen and dining space and installing a new entry sign. These features are anticipated to be completed by year-end.
Councilman Dwight Fish, D-4, who represents the district where the center is located, said he believes the opening is going to bring positivity not only to the neighborhood, but also the city in general.
“The Tolson Center was shut down under not so good circumstances and the reopening shows persistence with the community and they demanded it and the mayor responded and we have this newly refurbished and refocused community center,” he said.
“It frustrated a lot of people not having accessibility to the Tolson Center,” Fish said. “But we’re not going to dwell on the past, we’re looking to a really great future. We’re looking for the opportunity to bring kids in and help support the community through activities, programs, education, motivation, and all the good things that Tolson is known for.”
Beginning Monday, hours at the Tolson Center will be 8 a.m through 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays.
“This is just the beginning,” Norton said of the soon-to-be opening. “We’re at the start of the race, not the end."
The city is also partnering with Crossroads Community Church to host a grand reopening community picnic from 5-7 p.m. Friday, Sep. 27. The public is invited. The free, family friendly event will feature food, bounce houses, games and music.