Schenectady

Efforts to reopen Carver Community Center in Schenectady ongoing

The interior of the Carver Community Center, seen here on Nov. 12, 2021, has been gutted by a group of community volunteers as work to get the building back up to code remains ongoing.
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The interior of the Carver Community Center, seen here on Nov. 12, 2021, has been gutted by a group of community volunteers as work to get the building back up to code remains ongoing.

SCHENECTADY — It’s the fourth quarter in Raè Frasier’s mind, and she’s hoping her team can finish strong. 

It’s been a long — and at times, frustrating — road for the team of eight that make up the board of directors for Miracle on Craig Street Inc., the nonprofit that has been working tirelessly to restore the now vacant Carver Community Center to its once prosperous roots.

“We’re a super grassroots and resilient board of directors, and the beautiful thing about this building is that people want to see it back open,” she said. “There’s so much history in this spot.”

The center acted as a community hub for the Hamilton Hill neighborhood for decades, providing childcare and other support services until it closed in 2013 amid financial straits. The facility, which opened in 1969, was the only community center in the neighborhood, which has among the highest poverty rates in the city.

An effort to buy the building and reopen the center began in 2015 after the city attempted to auction the building that year to no avail.

Four years later, Miracle reached a deal with the city that would see the property turned over to the group, who were tasked with getting the building back up to code. The agreement came with a two-year clause that would require the building be returned to the city if the group failed to get back up to code by the end of 2021.

But not long after the agreement was finalized, the pandemic hit, resulting in the same domino effect felt worldwide — a monthslong work stoppage, now compounded by higher material costs and backlogged construction companies necessary to make the improvements.

In danger of missing its deadline, the group approached the City Council last week in the hopes of extending the agreement until the end of 2022. The extension was unanimously approved by the council this past week.

“The pandemic year certainly put a little bit of a wrench in terms of our plan in getting the building back up to code,” Frasier said.

Still, work has progressed.

New electrical panels have been installed on the exterior of the building and inside the gym, allowing volunteers to run a series of extension cords throughout the building so volunteers can continue to gut the interior.

Eventually, new electrical lines will be installed throughout the building, but those plans are on hold as the group works to raise the necessary funds. Plans to upgrade plumbing and install a new heating, ventilation and cooling system have met a similar fate.

Financial barriers are the only reason the center has yet to reopen, Frasier said.

“If we had a million dollars, we’d be open already,” she said. “We can’t just say, ‘Hey, we’re ready to have our electricity come back on.’ We have to have $200,000. It’s not that simple. I wish it was.”

The group received $150,000 from the city to rehabilitate the aging building and has been fundraising to secure the rest. To date, around $50,000 has been spent on electrical work and removing asbestos-containing materials and testing to make sure there are no lead pipes.

The remaining funds have been allocated to various other projects needed to get the building up to code and covering the cost of utility bills and dumpsters that haul away debris.

The estimated cost to restore the building is $1.5 million, Frasier said.

Frasier said she’s hoping additional funding streams will become available in the near future and eventually discuss additional funding with the city, which is currently in the process of determining how best to spend the $53 million in funding received as part of the American Rescue Plan Act.

Navigating various funding opportunities available has been a challenge, she said. Many grants carry certain contingencies, requiring funds to be spent a certain way or for the organization to do certain things before the money becomes available, she said.

“We’re expecting to see more support from different groups than just our own people,” Frasier said.

Frustration and passion

Meanwhile, volunteers continue to show up during weekly cleanups at the center, where more than 100 people have peeled paint, removed flooring and gutted various parts of the building.

At least one new person shows up each week, and questions about when the center will be reopening are asked during each session, Frasier said.

Seeing the growing need for services amid the pandemic while trying to navigate barriers preventing the center from reopening has been frustrating at times, but support for the project has never wavered, Frasier said.

“Frustration coupled with passion tends to be a really great driving force,” she said.

The project has deep roots for Frasier, whose great, great grandmother helped found the center when it first opened.

Growing up, she attended the center regularly, learning to play basketball on the same court where civil rights leaders gathered to lead a movement that still reverberates today.

“Carver kind of helped shape me to be the person I am today,” she said. “It taught me about resilience. It taught me about hard work and dedication. Who I am today — I owe part of it to Carver Community Center.”

Once reopened, Frasier said the center will focus on health and wellness and offer after-school programs and childcare services as well as classes on how to grow and prepare healthy foods. A doula program is also in place and staples of the former center, like the summer basketball league, will be brought back.

The center will also host a number of community organizations, Frasier said.

She said it’s not a matter of if the center will open, but when.

“Basketball is my sport. I’m all about the fourth quarter,” she said. “When you feel tired, it’s the fourth quarter. You got to keep going until the game’s won. And that’s the mindset we have.”

To learn more about Miracle on Craig Street, Inc, visit: miracleoncraigstreet.org.

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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