Lack of Funds, Forces Closure of nCenter
date posted: 4/3/2009

ROCKFORD, IL —The Salvation Army announced Thursday that it will close its community center at 220 S. Madison St. by the end of the month and no longer pay salaries and operational costs to support the nCENTER, a downtown center for teens which opened in the Salvation Army building in June.

“It’s a done deal,” said Col. Thomas Lewis, business administrator of the local Salvation Army. “We planned on closing a year ago, but we were approached by the city with this nCENTER idea. And we thought it was good idea. We thought we’d give it a try. But the money is not being raised.”

Lewis said the Salvation Army counted on at least $90,600 in charitable donations to support the nCENTER’s activities for which the Salvation Army provides 22 employees, mostly part-time, ranging from lifeguards and receptionists to program aides. To this day, Lewis said the Salvation Army has been able to secure only one grant — $53,000 — from the city to pay the salary of nCENTER Director James Ford.

Closure of the community center means 411 people will lose their daytime gym and swimming pool memberships and 743 area teens no longer will have a home for their youth enrichment program, Lewis said. It also means 22 people will be out of a job.   

‘This is a great loss’
“I’ll be fine,” said Gerald Lott, nCENTER evening and teen program coordinator. “God will take care of me. I’m worried about the kids. This is a great loss for our kids and a loss to this community at large.”

The building’s other tenants — the Winnebago County Health Department and Revolution Cafe — will be allowed to stay in the building, Lewis said. Pre-paid gym memberships, which are bringing in $16,000 less than last year, will be reimbursed.

The Salvation Army will then seek a buyer for the building, which received a $1.3 million makeover last summer before the nCENTER opened. The Salvation Army spent $600,000 on the renovation — $400,000 on the building, which came from donations; $50,000 on the outdoor basketball court pavilion and another $150,000 in the form of a loan from the city that the organization still needs to repay. Another $700,000 to $800,000 was donated by area labor trades members who did the work and more than a dozen public and private entities and individuals.

The Northern Illinois Building Contractors Association was one of dozens of labor organizations that donated manpower and materials to the renovation. Glen Turpoff, executive director of the association, said he hopes the city does what it can to save the nCENTER.

“We supported it and helped build it,” Turpoff said. “We’d like to see it continue. The program is sound. I’d hate to see it go down the drain. A lot of people put a lot of effort into it.”

Finding a solution
The renovation gave a fresh, teen-friendly look to an outdated building. The center features a TV lounge with a pool table and video-game systems, a computer lab, weight and cardio room, basketball court, swimming pool, and exercise and meeting rooms. The building is used by 60 to 125 people a day, Lewis said.

Adam Smith, Mayor Larry Morrissey’s director of education and lifelong learning and a driving force behind the opening of the nCENTER, said he’s confident the nCENTER will live on.

“The nCENTER is a part of the nFACTOR, a youth movement that is owned by the city’s youth,” Smith said. “The Salvation Army houses the nCENTER and has been an excellent partner with the city in helping to provide a home for the nCENTER, but we’ve hit this economic crisis. I understand their need to return to their core mission and do what the community needs them to be doing in these times, which is helping people in need.”

Smith said the city has been aware of the Salvation Army’s plans to sell the building for months.
“We’ve been working with them for months to find a long-term solution and more so in recent months,” Smith said. “We think it would be an excellent location for a charter school. There’s a charter school with its proposal already done. They’re looking for a building right now.”

Other ideas include a partnership with the city’s Human Services Department, which is now located in leased space on Church Street, the Rockford School District or the Rockford Park District to assist in funding and operations.

Stopped asking for money
While the community center is losing money on its adult programs and services, too, Lewis said a large portion of the loss comes from the nightside operation, which is teens only.

The center expected to spend $333,785 on daytime operations and programming for fiscal year 2009, which runs from October 2008 to September 2009. It expected to spend another $207,292 on evening programs. That cost includes everything from salaries and benefits for employees to supplies, equipment, food and printing. While the daytime program is running at a deficit of $8,145, the nighttime program is $37,512 in the hole, Lewis said.

Numerous attempts have been made to raise funds, he said. The Salvation Army sends nine to 10 mail appeals to area residents each month. After coming up $70,000 short in its Christmas fundraising campaign and losing $23,000 in funding from the United Way in February, Lewis said he didn’t see much hope in hitting people up for money.

The entire local Salvation Army operation is operating at a loss of $450,000 to $480,000 for the current fiscal year, Lewis said.

Staff writer at Rockford Register Star, Corina Curry can be reached at or 815-987-1371.
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