City turning over Kings center to church|[5/26/06]

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 26, 2006

Negotiations since last fall to turn over operation of the Kings Community Center to Triumph Missionary Baptist Church were finalized Thursday with official approval of the deal by Vicksburg officials.

The former elementary school on North Washington Street was transferred to the church via a two-year lease at $1 per year. After two years, the city has the option of deeding the center to the church.

Triumph Ministries, a non-profit arm of the Pittman Road church near the center, assumed full-time operations this morning.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

The ministry plans to use the space to expand the services it already provides on a smaller scale, including after-school tutoring, athletic, GED and adult education programs, computer training, a food kitchen and health services, including a collaboration with the Hinds County Comprehensive Health Clinic to provide reduced-price or free treatment. Its summer lunch program, beginning June 5 and lasting all summer with a $4,000 grant from the Mississippi Department of Education, will provide free meals from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. for children up to age 18, said Rev. Larry Nicks, senior pastor of the church.

&#8220It’s not Triumph’s facility, but the community’s facility,” Nicks said at the board meeting before the unanimous vote, later adding that the ministry would file &#8220quantitative and qualitative” reports with the city to show that it’s running at least the minimum of programs the city has been providing. &#8220It can’t become a facility solely for church usage.”

The structure was a county elementary school before a blending of the formerly separate city and county school districts in 1987 and annexation of the area by the City of Vicksburg in 1990. It was a Head Start Center for years afterward.

City officials poured millions into remodeling, expansion and staffing the one-story structure and gymnasium. At the same time, the city also built a second community center on the site of the former Jackson Street YMCA. That center remains under city maintenance.

The Kings Center’s budget was cut almost in half, from $258,200 in fiscal year 2005 to $149,580 in FY06, following a decision to cut the day school program along with the now-defunct Department of Human Services when the budget went into effect Oct. 1. Since, it had fallen under the Department of Parks and Recreation, along with the Jackson Street Center.

Mayor Laurence Leyens led the push to dissolve the nine DHS positions, saying the city &#8220is not an employment agency” and citing Vicksburg Warren School District’s increased role in taking on students with discipline problems. He estimated the department cost the city about $450,000 in wages.

The school district is serving about 168 special-needs students at Grove Street, said Superintendent James Price, as many as two dozen of whom would likely have been sent by a youth court judge to the Kings Center before the district’s Grove Street operation was an option.

Since the takeover by Parks and Recreation, both the Kings and Jackson Street centers had cut back hours – from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. – but remained well-attended, said department head Joe Graves, who estimated 25-50 participants daily in each center’s after-school program and similar numbers for adults after 6 p.m.

Most of those participants, came for basketball and, at Kings, weight lifting. The takeover by Triumph was pushed in large part by a desire to offer more services unrestrained by the bureaucracy and limited resources of government.

&#8220It’s always just been Kings gym to me,” said South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman. &#8220Now I think it will be a real community center.”

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield, an opponent of eliminating DHS and the day-school program at Kings last fall, also approved of the ministry’s takeover, as did Leyens. The mayor said he looked forward to gauging Triumph’s success at Kings as a test for future public-private partnerships.

&#8220If this works, we would like to see these kinds of programs grow,” he said. &#8220We’ll be watching it very carefully.”

The center will be staffed by church staff, church members and &#8220a vast number of volunteers,” with no city employees, Nicks said.

In other business, the board: