By Elizabeth Perry
In multiple press releases touting grants awarded around the area, it was announced the Josh Gibson Foundation has been awarded a $2.25 million grant for the reconstruction and development of a community center in McKees Rocks.
However, Sean Gibson, president of the organization, said he didn’t want to provide comment on concrete plans for the project until ground was broken, because of prior experiences in McKees Rocks.
“What happened last time didn’t leave a good taste in my mouth,” Gibson said.
In 2019, the Gibson Foundation had planned to build a community complex with wheelchair-compliant fields on Rangers Field. The plans had been developed with the cooperation of some members of the borough council.
Resident MarySue Noble-Flick said she had been to six or seven meetings where Gibson reached out to the public in McKees Rocks about the Rangers Field project.
“He had so much support,” Noble-Flick said.
Those plans suddenly shut down. Gibson was informed days before a November council meeting he had been dropped from the agenda.
Many residents and community leaders rallied behind the project and protested the move. Gibson was allowed to present the plans, but ultimately the council voted to declare Rangers Field a sanctioned green space. The decision barred development of the area for 99 years.
“The community was devastated,” Noble-Flick said.
The current council, led by President Archie Brinza gave permission to the Gibson Foundation to apply for the grant in order to transform the former Sto-Ken-Rox Boys & Girls Club site into a community center.
The Boys & Girls Club was explicitly tied to the grant application, Brinza said.
“When we had given them permission to move forward, it was absolutely at that site,” Brinza said.
The club closed in 2020. The borough is technically the property owner of the site which opened in 1979. Borough officials recently executed an agreement with the Boys & Girls Club of Allegheny County providing them with full control of the building.
Despite the announcement, Councilman Nick Radoycis said plans for the grant were “pretty unclear at this point.”
Radoycis said the Boys and Girls Club site was just one proposed place for the community center and plans would be “refined.”
Radoycis said the council had approached several people to be on a citizen’s committee for the project.
“We’ve asked for some volunteers, some people have advanced their names. We’re going to have to see what transpires,” Radoycis said.
Mayor David Flick said the borough had been negotiating with the Boys and Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania and had an agreement with the organization to put a similar type of community-focused club for kids in that building.
Flick said his constituents often tell him McKees Rocks needs a safe space for children to play, so they aren’t getting into trouble. He feels the former Boys & Girls Club building should be that space.
“Right now it’s just sitting there getting broken into every once in a while,” Flick said.
The whole point of the borough taking over the building was to create a community center in that space, Flick asserted. All of the discussions Flick had with the council about the community center grant involved the Josh Gibson Foundation and the former Sto-Ken-Rox Boys & Girls Club.
“Maybe those are conversations Nick’s having with someone else,” Flick said.
Brinza said he could not speak to any other council member’s experiences, but did say the specific plans for the project had not been presented as of yet. He hoped there would be a public event to fold in community input.
Brinza initially told Gazette 2.0 the borough was working with the Gibson Foundation to revitalize the empty building in July of this year. James Lind, president of McKees Rocks Industrial Enterprises, has been involved in the project since its inception.
Flick said when word of the grant came through, Brinza was “higher than two kites,” at the news.
“I was elated,” Brinza said. “It just shows that people do care about our town. I was very, very excited. I was on cloud nine.”
As the process moved closer to fruition, Brinza envisioned a big, public event to encourage recommendations, “so we can implement one of their ideas.”
“We will set up an event to present what they’re doing,” Brinza said.