Thanks to funding from the five-eighths-cent sales tax approved by Pine Bluff voters in February 2011, renovation work began on the Chester Hynes Community Center Feb. 11, with work set to begin at the Merrill Community Center in the near future.

Thanks to funding from the five-eighths-cent sales tax approved by Pine Bluff voters in February 2011, renovation work began on the Chester Hynes Community Center Feb. 11, with work set to begin at the Merrill Community Center in the near future.

The Pine Bluff City Council approved $59,872 for the renovation work as part of the city’s 2012 budget.

“We were really blessed,” said Community Center Director Laura Hildreth. “They were going to start the work on Monday but they actually got started a day early.”

Hildreth said that the two community centers provide after-school and summer activities for young people ages 5 to 19.

Hildreth showed off the work completed so far at the Chester Hynes gymnasium, including the installation of metal flashing along the upper half of the gym’s walls, the repair of the electronic scoreboard, the repair of two heaters, the refurbishing of two ventilation fans, the repair of overhead light fixtures and the removal of unwanted items from the equipment closet.

“When I tell you it was a pleasant experience; the work done by Kevin Smith [Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Department supervisor] and his crew and the assistance of inmates from the Department of Corrections was just wonderful,” Hildreth said.

“I just want a place for the kids to come where they feel safe and special,” Hildreth said. “The kids came in and they went ‘wow, this is great!’ and they said ‘coach, did you do this for us?’ and I said ‘the community did this for us!’ I tell them that this is our house and we are going to respect it and take care of it.”

“Over spring break they are going to do the lobby floors as well as paint the walls in the lobby area,” Hildreth said. “Once Head Start is out for the school year in May they will go in and redo the classrooms so the kids will have a great space to come back to in August.”

“We are really, really blessed and I am so thankful,” Hildreth said. “Everything that has been done has exceeded my expectations.”

Merrill plans

Hildreth said that once work is completed at Chester Hynes similar renovations will begin at Merrill.

“At Merrill we are planning to redo the lights in the gym, repair the score clock and the bleachers and straighten out the kitchen,” Hildreth said.

The Merrill center is near the site for the city’s new multi-purpose center and since it probably won’t be built for another two years, Hildreth said, renovations for Merrill were needed.

“During the school year we probably have 100 kids in and out of Merrill every day and close to 200 every day in the summer,” Hildreth said. “We are so thankful to Annette Dove and TOPPS for their assistance by providing food for the kids Monday through Friday.”

Larry Matthews, coordinator at the Pine Bluff Economic and Community Development Department, told the Feb. 6 meeting of the City Council that work at both centers, not including plans to replace the gym floors in both buildings, should take 90 days to complete.

Matthews told the council that the city will solicit bids for companies to re-do the gym floors at both facilities and will then return to the council with requests for funding of the lowest bids at each facility.

Matthews said that the money already allocated for renovation work does not include enough to cover the gym floors, which he said will likely be costly to fix.

Parental support

Maple Adkins, parent of 11-year-old JaCobi Adkins, who is a member of the Youth Basketball Association Pine Bluff Ballers, was excited to see the improvements at Chester Hynes and thankful for the inclusion of the center in her son’s life.

“My son’s self-confidence has gone up by being a part of the activities at Chester Hynes,” Adkins said. “It is great just to see him interact with the other kids. He used to never smile and he’s smiling all the time now. I am always trying to find things for him to do. Whatever activity Laura [Hildreth] comes up with I’m going to sign him up. I love the positive environment up here. She’s hard on them but they need it. She stays positive, I don’t care what happens.”

Patricia Burnett, parent of 8-year-old Laila McClain, who is playing basketball with the YBA A-1 Schock, got her child involved in basketball at Chester Hynes to round out her activities.

“Laila is a very, very smart girl, but I wanted her to be more focused,” Burnett said. “I wanted her to get into athletics instead of just being around the house all day. She didn’t want to do it at first but now she loves basketball. She’s practicing all day and night and even in the rain.”

Staff writer Amy Widner contributed to this article.