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Community center faces challenges in Lincoln Park

Related story on West Duluth community center

By ALEXANDER RISSE
DCN Correspondent

Sometimes a place can define a community. It can bring people together, raise children and break down barriers. Dennis Sauve knows. He’s lived and worked down the street from such a place for decades.

Sauve is the owner of Twin Ports Cyclery, a bike shop on Third Street, in the Lincoln Park district of Duluth. Only a half-minute walk down the road from his shop is the Harrison Community Center.

“It’s the kind of place that really melds the community,? Sauve said. “People get to know their neighbors.?

Sauve has operated his bike shop next to the community center since 1978. He has been a member of committees that oversee the how the center is run. He said the center helped his son, “Manage the perils of adolescence very well.?

Sauve recalled a time when kids from Harrison would come to his shop where they could have their bikes worked on for free. He explained that the center has been essential for the culturally diverse neighborhood, recalling how kids of different races played basketball at the center.

“There are too many kids in the area not to have Harrison,? he said.

The Harrison Community Center was built in 1912 for use as a shelter for an ice skating rink. When it was condemned in 1968, due to structural problems, members of the community rolled up their sleeves and repaired the center. It was then that the community center as it is today was born.

Since then, Harrison has been a fixture for many of the area’s residents. Joe Perfetti, the president of the Harrison Community Club, said that the center is rented out on average of over 20 days a month. It is routinely the location of weddings, birthday parties and children’s programs. Dinners for seniors are also held at the center, giving them an opportunity to socialize with their neighbors.

Despite the major role that Harrison has played in the community over the years, it has recently been in limbo. For a long time heavy road construction blocked any major activities from being held there. When that was finally finished, the center was closed in early 2007 as a result of a fire that was lit in the basement.

“People were really upset,? Sauve said. “It was a shocker.?

Again, the community stepped in to save the building. Around $20,000 was raised when it became apparent insurance would not provide enough funds to repair the damage. Sauve and Perfetti see this as evidence of how central Harrison has become to Lincoln Park.

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Located on Third Street, the Harrison Community Center is a central part of Lincoln Park. (Photo by Alexander Risse)

On Sept. 27, 2008, the Harrison Community Center re-opened its doors.

“It’s really good to have the center back and better than ever,? Sauve said. He pointed out a new kitchen and bathrooms that have been added to Harrison. Sauve is hopeful that the center will be back to its old busy self within the next few weeks.

Still, Harrison has challenges to face. Recently the city of Duluth cut funding to programs that help operate Harrison and other community centers.

Cheryl Hallamek works at the bike shop with Sauve. She said that her son, a recreation specialist at another local community center, was recently laid off due to the budget cuts. The same position was eliminated at Harrison. Hallamek and Sauve worry that these cuts will lead to the loss of supervised after-school and summer activities. Sauve feels that the city is too quick to cut such programs, and the absence of them will hurt the community.

In light of these recent budget issues, Perfetti said the Harrison Community Club is taking steps to move the center away from city funding. He said Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) may play a role in future funding. CDBG are allocated by the federal government, and help fund many community building programs around the country.

Sauve feels a strong sense of community in Lincoln Park. He believes that Harrison is a big reason for that. He remembers when the children of local families would settle only a few blocks from home. He said Harrison helps to keep that sense of community from disappearing. With any luck, Sauve will soon be back to fixing kids’ bikes as they grow up down the street at Harrison.

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The basketball court at Harrison is a popular place among neighborhood kids. (Photo by Alexander Risse.)