City Center in Danger of Closing

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WILLIAMSPORT -- A community center in Williamsport is in danger of closing.

The building it has called home for over 30 years goes up for sale soon, and that could mean an end to the programs for the elderly and children.

It is called "The Center," and it has been on Campbell Street since the late 1970s.

Its roots go back to when African-Americans were not accepted at other community organizations.

Now the building's owners want to sell, putting The Center in danger of closing for good by year's end.

Every Wednesday, bingo is the name of the game for ladies at The Center on Campbell Street in Williamsport.

They come for the prizes, sure, but mostly for the company and for the sense of community this place fosters.

"For so long we couldn't start out at the 'Y,' they didn't want us here or there because of our color," said Velna Grimes of Williamsport.

Grimes is one of the many, young and old, who use The Center and benefit from its programs. Now the building's owner, the Lycoming Housing Authority, plans to sell in order to put the money toward low-income housing in the city.

"I may start crying because, it's very emotional," said Grimes.

For more than 30 years The Center has been on Campbell Street in the city providing programs for kids in the neighborhood, like how to grow a garden. All that is in jeopardy when this property goes for sale sometime later this year or early 2013.

"They need the money, and they'll sell the building. We can't afford to buy it, so we're going to have to leave," said Samuel Belle, president of The Center's board of directors.

Where they would go, Belle does not know. Belle said The Center has fallen on hard times and is exploring options. Faced with closing before the year is out is difficult for Belle and others to imagine.

"This is what a lot of us say 'This is what we have. This is us,'" said Belle. "I think we may be losing it, I don't know."

The Campbell Street Center had about 50 kids in its summer program and has about 40 kids in its after-school program.

There is hope, however.

The property deed requires the building to remain a community center so whoever buys the property must include some sort of community center in its plans.