By Elizabeth Perry
The Josh Gibson Foundation presented plans to transform the former Sto-Ken-Rox Boys and Girls Club into a place for young people, the gifted disabled community and seniors.
About a year ago, the Gibson Foundation approached McKees Rocks about building a community center at the former Boys and Girls Club site to provide programming for youth, senior citizens and people with disabilities.
“Upper St. Clair has an academy just like the one we’re proposing. Having resources under one hub can greatly improve our community,” Grant Writer Irene Sparks said.
In an interview after the April 11 meeting, Sparks talked about the transformative nature of a resource like the proposed community center could have on McKees Rocks.
Proximity was important, Sparks said, because having the educational and recreational opportunities within an under-served community like McKees Rocks would provide, “growth and benefit for generations to come.”
Sean Gibson, executive director of the Josh Gibson Foundation, is the great-grandson of the Hall of Fame baseball player Josh Gibson, who played in the Negro Leagues in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In November 2022, the project was awarded a $2.25 million grant.
Initially, the plans being considered would have included rebuilding from scratch, with a proposed $12 million budget. An adapted design created by LGA Architecture, which would save much of the original structure, was introduced instead.
The redesign will include three floors instead of the existing two. The space would include a gymnasium, indoor batting cages, classrooms and a computer lab.
Sparks said the project has a “sustainability plan” built in, which includes renting out space within the facility.
“There’s a lot of space there to offer programs for the community,” Gibson said.
The design also includes a Miracle Field, so players who use wheelchairs or have other disabilities have equal access. This would be the only indoor field in the area, Gibson said promoting unique, year-round play.
“All the Miracle Fields are in the White suburbs. This would be the closest Miracle Field [to] the city,” Gibson said.
Gibson said the organization plans to maintain the outdoor field currently at the facility, and there are no plans to convert it at this time into a Miracle Field because the ramp wouldn’t be workable for wheelchair users.
Council’s Maryann Holland said she presumed initially the club would be for Sto-Rox youth only and questioned if children from the city would be allowed to use the facility.
“It’s for every kid,” Gibson said.
Gibson said the proposed budget included transportation for kids from the schools in the Sto-Rox area.
Operating costs would be close to $500,000 a year once the community center gets up and running, Gibson said.
Holland asked if there would be a fee for classes and membership, and Gibson said there would be a small fee to promote accountability for the people who want to join. He said his experience with free programs is that people enrolled don’t show up.
“It’s more of accountability,” Gibson asked.
Holland asked what the programs for seniors would entail.
“That’s where we want to get the community involvement,” Gibson said.
Holland is leading a committee to engage residents in planning. She said in an interview after the meeting, her only concern with the project was the gap between the existing $3 million the organization has raised and the rest of the budget still needed to complete the project.
“It’s very exciting. I’m so looking forward to something good happening here,” Holland said.
Currently, local business owners Jimmy Lind and Ed Meyer of Tri-State Furniture are partnering to provide support for the project.
“This is very important to me and to Ed. We are in it for the long haul and we will continue to work with Sean to make sure this comes to pass,” Lind said.
Additionally PACE Fund, ThermoFisher Scientific, Allegheny County Housing Authority, Baseball Players Alliance, and McKees Rocks Borough, are providing support, Gibson said.
The organization is seeking funding from grants through the offices of Sen. Bob Casey Jr., Congressman Chris DeLuzio and Sen. John Fetterman.
They are also vying for grants from UPMC, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Google, and other state and local foundations, Gibson said.
“We’re looking for community support and we’re still looking for sponsors of people who’d like to support McKees Rocks,” Sparks said.
Gibson said he hoped to break ground on the facility within three years.