When the City of Sacramento announced this fall that the Clunie Hall Community Center, located at 601 Alhambra Boulevard at McKinley Park, was in jeopardy of closing this July due to city budget issues, a community-wide campaign was launched to keep it fully operating. Residents and business owners of East Sacramento, members of McKinley Library, and McKinley Park enthusiasts didn’t waste any time to save their 75 year-old iconic building.
“We have $29,000 for this fiscal year to pay for everyday maintenance such as the heating, air conditioning, janitorial and part time staff for the Clunie Center. We could not guarantee that we could continue to allocate that much for the building,” explained Lori Harder, City Administrative Manager of Parks and Recreation. “The potential of closing the community center and eventually the adjoining McKinley Library, those two things happening were very alarming for the community around McKinley Park. So members of the community stepped up to raise funds and manage the building.”
Friends of East Sac rally
The initial rally to help raise funds came from members of the non-profit group, Friends of East Sac. According to the organization’s Website, the funds represent the committee’s commitment to support those in need and the community.
“Friends of East Sacramento – with the support of every of East Sacramento and Midtown neighborhood association, Councilman Steve Cohn, the Friends of McKinley Library, the city, and donations by hundreds of neighbors – has stepped forward with a 3 year plan to provide non-profit management for the Clunie,” the Website stated. “This will help ensure that the McKinley Library could continue to stay open. The Friends of East Sacramento will model the operation after the very successful Sierra 2 Center in Curtis Park. The nonprofit model of the operation of public facilities is growing nation-wide. But keeping it open and managed by a nonprofit takes start-up money.”
The rebel cry was a success. Within four months, Friends of East Sac, led by East Sacramento resident Cecily Hastings, collected over $60,000 from local businesses, residents, and park supporters to help pay off the City’s $45,000 operating budget.
“We got the call right before the Christmas break and I can tell you, in the past four years we don’t get that kind of good news too often anymore with all the closures of parks and recs. So yea, it was a great Christmas present,” said Harder. “Without the group’s efforts, the Center was most likely to close in July, along with the library inside.”
“We’ve established a $60,000 building fund because this is an old building and we’ve already figured out it’s a money pit,” said Hastings at a City press conference held on Jan. 17 with Mayor Kevin Johnson, Councilmember Steve Cohn and Nancy Cornelius from McKinley-East Sacramento Neighborhood Association (MENA). “We want to restore it to its glory of probably what it was 75 years ago.”
Blueprint to follow
At the press conference, Mayor Johnson said the work in East Sacramento is “a blueprint that challenges other areas of the city.”
Harder expanded on the Mayor’s sentiments by adding that this action by residents and businesses in East Sacramento is a community model that the City hopes will continue to emerge to help keep parks and community centers open as the budget deficit continues to chip away at those assets.
“We do have several other community centers that are (scheduled) to close, so we put out calls to non-profits and big local corporations if they want to talk to us about taking over responsibility of other community centers, to keep them open for community meetings, programming for kids, teens and adults,” Harder said. “A great example of this model is the Sierra 2 Center, run by the Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association. It makes the Curtis Park neighborhood one of the most unique communities in Sacramento.”
Negotiating a transition
Currently organizers of Friends of East Sac are in negotiations with the City to take over the Center and run the facility at a lower cost than the city has. Organizers believe that, with proper management, the Clunie Hall Community Center could bring in $100,000 a year.
“We are working with their advisory committee to finalize the lease and transition base. They have people with facility management, grant writing, and marketing skills,” Harder said. “We hope the transition will be sometime by this spring or by July. We have great faith this organization will do a superb job in maintaining this center.”
“I bring my family out here to enjoy the park all the time, and this Center has served the community and has enhanced the lives of others in so many ways,” said supporter Robert Schmitt. “We know these are difficult times for many people, but this is a place that anyone can come and benefit from such as the McKinley Library, and the events held inside. I’m glad we have a community that cares so much.”
Clunie by the Numbers
The Clunie Hall Community Center was named for a life-long Sacramento resident, Florence Turton Clunie, wife of pioneer and state congressman Thomas J. Clunie. She was a notable Sacramento businesswoman in her own right. Upon her death in 1934, her estate donated $150,000 for the building of a community center and pool in McKinley Park. The City of Sacramento pitched in an additional $20,000 to establish the McKinley Library at the north end of the new building. Both opened to the public in late 1936.
The Center boasts a beautiful lobby with an art deco look, reminiscent of the 1930s when it was built.
Classes organized by Parks and Recreation with private instructors: 5590
Estimated number of people through rental activity (community and nonprofit meetings and events, weddings/family events, library programming, etc.): 33,753
Examples of classes:
Piano for Beginners
Spanish 4 Toddlers