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Omaha neighborhood association battles to keep its community center

Posted on December 1, 2015 at 5:39 pm

Chris Foster, the landlord representative for the Gifford Park Neighborhood Association, talks to the people who gathered at Yates in November. / Photo by Jeff Renken

Chris Foster, the landlord representative for the Gifford Park Neighborhood Association, talks to the people who gathered at Yates in November. / Photo by Jeff Renken

By Jeff Renken

For the past 16 years, the Gifford Park Neighborhood Association has battled Omaha Public Schools to get an elementary school back in the neighborhood. Now in an unfortunate way, their wish might come true.

The Yates Community Center lives up to its name by offering a wide range of services to the neighborhood. The Early Childhood Center provides education and entertainment. The Family Resource Center is great for mothers to come and learn English while their kids are at the daycare, and the Parent Support Program helps refugees and immigrant integrate into the community.

Chris Foster, the landlord representative for the Gifford Park Neighborhood Association, explained all of this to people who filled Yates’ auditorium on Nov. 10.

In 2014, a $421 million bond issue was passed. OPS dedicated $17 million of this for a new elementary school in the Gifford Park neighborhood. They haven’t officially decided where the school will be located, but neighborhood residents are worried the Yates building will be torn down to make room for the new building.

The Yates center was built in 1917 and served as an elementary school until 1999. During the next 10 years, it was used as an alternative school for students with behavioral disorders. In 2009, it became the Yates Community Center. It’s still owned and operated by OPS, but now it offers pre-kindergarten classes and has 375 adults enrolled in programs for immigrants and refugees.

“We believe that OPS has already made up their mind without seriously considering our input,” association member Mike Caban said.

Six houses would also have to be torn down to make room. According to Foster, OPS purchased one of them already.

To keep the Yates building, the association is providing another option.

Martin Janousek said the association's plan offers enough room for the school, a gymnasium, cafeteria and an outdoor play area. / Photo by Jeff Renken

Martin Janousek said the association’s plan offers enough room for the school, a gymnasium, cafeteria and an outdoor play area. / Photo by Jeff Renken

Five blocks north, around 30th and Burt streets, Creighton University Medical Center is selling a combined 24 acres, 3.3 of which is a parking lot that the association believes would be the perfect location for everyone involved.

Martin Janousek, business representative for the association, said this location offers enough room for the school, a gymnasium, cafeteria and an outdoor play area. It’s also directly across the street from OPS headquarters.

The problem with this plan is that Creighton doesn’t want to sell the land in multiple sections. So far, Foster said his conversations with Creighton haven’t yielded results.

Marque Snow, school board member for the district, said OPS’ talks with Creighton haven’t been successful either, so working with whoever purchases the land might be the only option.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they already found a developer,” Snow said. “I think the best approach would be to find out who that is, and try to get them to carve out a piece for the school.

If Yates is torn down, the programs would move to Kellom Elementary, but there are problems with this, too.

Tyronda Pierce lives in the neighborhood and occasionally watches children at the Yates daycare. She sees many kids walk to Yates without parents, and she thinks the 1.4-mile walk from Yates to Kellom is too dangerous for children.

The Yates center was built in 1917 and served as an elementary school until 1999. During the next 10 years, it was used as an alternative school for students with behavioral disorders. In 2009, it became the Yates Community Center. / Photo by Jeff Renken

The Yates center was built in 1917 and served as an elementary school until 1999. During the next 10 years, it was used as an alternative school for students with behavioral disorders. In 2009, it became the Yates Community Center. / Photo by Jeff Renken

“I’ve watched these kids over the years, and we can’t have them crossing over busy streets like Cuming,” Pierce said.

Foster said that if OPS isn’t concerned about the loss of this center, he’ll keep trying to convince Creighton to sell.

“We need to make them realize they may be losing a great service to our city if they broke this up,” Foster said. “I think it’s great for the neighborhood, and the neighborhood’s great for immigrants and refugees,”

Supporters of Yates don’t have long to convince people either. OPS wants to have building plans completed by January 2017 with construction to begin in 2018 and finished by August 2019.

Until then, Foster urges residents to speak at school board meetings and send letters to the Creighton board of trustees.

“It’s not too late to do the right thing, Foster said. “Our plan is a win-win for everyone.”


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