“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much,”—Helen Keller
In line with Keller’s philosophy, the boards of three Sylvania-based organizations, Sylvania Arts, Sylvania STEM Center and Sylvania Recreation, have joined together to form a strategic alliance. The talks surrounding this partnership began nearly two years ago as all three organizations were experiencing the need for additional programming space in order to better serve the community. “This partnership allows us the opportunity to build something unique to inspire all community members to learn and grow as they imagine, play, and create,” noted STEM Center Executive Director Tom Burnworth. “Each of our organizations offers incredible benefits and opportunities to the community. But collectively, we have the potential to do something that has never been done before,” he explained.
That something is a new $60 million Multigenerational Community Center, which allows for an innovative approach to incorporating athletics, arts, and science under one roof.
The necessary steps for the 2.56 mill capital improvement levy to fund the project have been completed by the SAJRD Board clearing the way for the levy to be on the November ballot. The site plan for the proposed 130,000-square-foot center, which has been presented to Lucas County and Sylvania Township planners and zoning committees, has been approved at two meetings with one more to come.
The proposed location for the facility is a 14 acre site in Cobblestones Woods Business Park. This site is adjacent to the University/Parks Trail, the back of Sylvania Southview High School, and relatively close to the King Road Library. “This location provides outstanding connectivity opportunities from all directions using all forms of transportation,” Sylvania Recreation Operations Director Mike McMahon explained.
Unique to the building will be a very large maker space equipped with tools for any project. “If you can think it you can build it,” Burnworth observed. Directly above the maker space will be robotic team space, STEM classrooms, and workrooms. Burnworth pointed out that the maker space will be available for anyone in the community along with the STEM kids. “This maker space really sets us apart, creating a most unique facility,” he said.
Plans for the center also include several areas for athletic and fitness activities with an elevated 1/6 mile track encircling those court areas. There will be an area for fitness training, as well. Two swimming pools, one for competitive swimming and the other for family fun, are also included in the concept.
A large community space, which could accommodate up to 400 people, will be used for a multitude of events including gatherings and meetings, performing arts events such as rehearsals, films, dance, and much more.
Those wishing to use the Multigenerational Community Center may choose from a menu of membership options or participate with program based options.
“There is something for everyone of all ages in this facility,” McMahon promises. “Parents can take advantage of the fitness opportunities to walk and or run on the track or take a class, rehearse for a show while their child is at practice. There is just no end to the possibilities,” he added.
And Sylvania Arts Executive Director Kelly McGilvery agrees. “We think the arts and creativity have a multiplying effect on community impact when they’re joined with other groups and audiences. We know from years of research that the arts, visual and performing, are a powerful force for the health and vitality of individuals and communities. There are tremendous opportunities for the arts and creativity available in a multigenerational community center, from scheduling classes and workshops at the same time as sports games or practices so we can provide enrichment for folks who otherwise might be waiting around for their kids’ practice to end, for instance. Conducting our programs in a building with lots of foot traffic offers the chance to attract an audience we might not otherwise be able to reach,” she offered.
“Our initial interest in the community center was access to space for performances, rehearsals, classes, screenings, and studio space. Combined with exposure to audiences and programming that we don’t typically interact with, this was a very convincing case for moving forward with an alliance.”
Prior to COVID-19, Sylvania Rec decision-makers, in listening to community voices, began looking at the possibility of building a community center. And, to that end, looked for an appropriate building site. They found and were able to secure an option on the 14-acre business park site with help from John Healey of Miller Diversified Realty. However, those plans were put on hold because of the pandemic.
Before 2020, the 10-year-old Sylvania STEM Center had experienced tremendous growth. The organization was looking for new space and planning the addition of a makerspace. However, with COVID-19, those plans were also put on hold.
Meanwhile, a small group of citizens interested in developing a local theater for film and live productions began talks with Sylvania Arts and others. One member of that initial group was also working with the STEM team and saw the advantage of joint conversations, which ultimately led to further collaborations. As a result, Burnworth applied and received a Toledo Community Foundation grant, which funded the hiring of B. Stahl & Associates who worked with the three organization boards resulting in the formation of the alliance.