A $1.3 million dollar facelift to the old Merrill Community Center is almost completed with a ribbon cutting set for March 27.

Mayor Shirley Washington said Monday that the event had been set for 1 to 5 p.m. on a Saturday to ensure that the community would be able to attend and see the facility, which is now known as the Pine Bluff Community Center, located at 1000 S. Ash St.

Washington said the project would be a place where youngsters could go and relax but also where they can go and improve themselves.

“There will be art, dance, music and a sound studio,” Washington said, emphasizing that these interests would be directed by a volunteer who will help young people use the facility to its highest purpose.

“If they are using the sound studio, they will be able to say, ‘I produced this,’ and have it be something they are proud of.”

For that to happen, Washington said the facility needs volunteers. Already, a teacher has volunteered to do some after-school teaching at the center, while another person who is trained in art has agreed to direct the arts and crafts program.

“Those are the kind of people we need to help this center go forward,” Washington said.

“This will help the young people who have lost so much during covid as they have tried to study from home and online. There is just so much you can do in that environment.”

The 27,000-square-foot facility is 60 years old and recently underwent a near total renovation, with a new computer lab and teaching kitchen as well as revamped boxing gym and basketball court.

“This has been a long time coming,” Samuel Glover, director of the Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Department, said when the project kicked off last year. “A long time coming.”

There will also be a game room and a reading room where young people can go for some quiet time.

Washington said that even though the ribbon cutting has now been put on the calendar, the center is not quite ready to open its doors to the public. The reason, she said, is that she wants to make sure the volunteers are in place and programs established before inviting young people in.

Consequently, the opening date is yet to be determined, according to William Fells, an assistant to the mayor.

The project has been aided with funding from Go Forward Pine Bluff, Simmons Bank and State Farm insurance.

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