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Date of Issue: February 23, 2006

Rising construction costs, oil prices leave new community center short

When Pierrette Kelly of the Anna Maria Island Community Center and her staff and executive board first started four years ago on the road to raise $2 million for an overhaul and expansion of the Center, some people thought $2 million was a lot of money.

Turns out, that’s not enough, thanks to the incredible rise in oil products and construction costs, particularly the past year. Plus, it took the Center nearly two years to get its final site plan approved.

Speaking at the Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials Feb. 16 meeting in Holmes Beach, Kelly told BIEO members that the Center has raised the $2 million needed for construction under the original estimate, but the cost has now climbed to $3 million - and could go even higher.

Kelly has managed to get Manatee County to provide up to $100,000 to meet the revised goal, but she’s also asking the Island cities - including Longboat Key - to consider a larger donation to the Center in the 2006-07 budget cycle.

The Center serves quite a number of Longboat Key and Island residents, and it’s not just for young people, she noted. "We handled more than 4,000 adults in 2005 for our various programs," said Kelly. "We’re here for the entire Island and Longboat Key."

Kelly also observed that the $2 million has been raised entirely from private donations of primarily Island residents.

"There were some people who said we could never raise that amount from private donors on the Island, but we did. Now, we’ve got a new goal."

The Center plans on launching a public awareness campaign in the near future to raise funds for the construction, but is still working with the private sector and is hopeful that the Island cities will expand their contributions.

"We’ve got to get as much as possible before the public campaign. If the cities could support the project on a higher financial level than before, it will really help," Kelly said, adding that Holmes Beach increased its allotment to the Center in its 2005-06 budget.

Kelly said part of the public awareness campaign will be to inform Islanders and the public exactly what the Center does.

She also added that a major reason for the expansion plan is that the State of Florida won’t allow different age groups to be in the same room and building at the same time for a community center program. In other words, teenagers can’t mix with pre-teens, who can’t be with elementary school children, who can’t be with adults, and so on.

"It makes it very hard to run all our programs with just three rooms," Kelly said.

And the programs are not all about sports, bridge or after-school activities.

The Center operates a youth counseling service for teenagers - and pre-teens - using drugs or alcohol, engaged in sexual activity, being abused at home or facing the danger of these issues.

"It would be a shame to lose these programs for our young people - and lose our young people to these problems - because we didn’t have the space the state requires," Kelly told the coalition.

BIEO members pledged to return to their respective commissions and support additional funding for the Center in the upcoming budget cycle.

Anyone interested in assisting the Center in its fund-raising efforts is asked to call Kelly at 778-1908.