Canton Repository

December 24, 2005

Church gets grant to build rec center

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - A Canton church will receive $750,000 in federal funding to help build an estimated $2 million recreation center in Plain Township that church officials and Rep. Ralph Regula say will benefit the community.

But some local officials question the need for the proposed facility, whose plans still are in flux.

First Christian Church of Canton requested the funding from Regula, R-Bethlehem Township. The 17-term lawmaker reserved the funding in a $138 billion spending bill signed into law by President Bush last month.

As a senior member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, Regula has used his clout to earmark millions of dollars for colleges and universities, hospitals, companies and other organizations in his congressional district.

The plan

The church plans to build the community recreation center at the Edgewood Golf Course, which it bought in 2002. It began construction of a new sanctuary on the 114-acre property in September.

“Gym space is an issue in our area,” said the Rev. John Hampton, preaching minister at the church. He said the center would serve the area by offering space for sports and fitness activities and other community uses.

“We rejoice in being able to see the different community needs that we’ve talked about being met in a healthy way in a beautiful environment,” he said. The center would be open to anyone in Stark County, he said.

But at least one potential collaborator in the enterprise, the YMCA of Central Stark County, is unsure whether the facility is needed.

Tim Shetzer, chief executive officer of the YMCA, said Plain Township is surrounded by four YMCAs — in North Canton, Canton, Louisville and Hartville — that are minutes away from the township. Thousands of Plain Township residents belong to these YMCAs, he said.

“So the question my board members are asking is, ‘Why would we do something with that church when we have all these YMCAs around the church?’ And no one is able to give them a good answer,” he said.

What residents want

Regula contends the facility is a worthy use of federal dollars.

“This meets a need,” he said. “And that’s one of the questions that they have to answer. Does it meet a communitywide need? And I think in this particular location it does.”

The center also could become home to after-school programs, charitable activities, a health and wellness facility and prescription drug assistance for seniors, Regula’s office said.

The final shape of the center and its uses remain a question mark.

Hampton said the church is in discussions with various organizations, including the YMCA, Malone College, Walsh University, local schools and area hospitals, which may become primary users of the facility and whose needs would influence its design.

In the past, the YMCA, Malone and Walsh, among many other area organizations, have received project funding secured by Regula.

Hampton estimated the recreation center would range from 16,000 to 20,000 square feet.

An individual who wants to remain anonymous contributed $1 million for the center, Hampton said. The church has spent an undisclosed amount on land acquisition and improvement.

He said the center would be under the control of a nonprofit corporation named Edgewood Community Project. The church is assembling a board of directors for the corporation that would be made up of local community leaders and representatives of the church. Hampton said the board would be independent of the church.