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Youth are excited Thursday at the groundbreaking for the new construction of the Avondale Youth and Family Development Center.

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Community breaks ground for new Avondale Youth and Family Development Center

Local government officials, community members and leaders gathered in freezing temperatures Thursday morning for a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Avondale Youth and Family Development Center.

The new center, a $6 million project, will be double the size of the existing 68-year-old facility, located at the corner of Wilcox Boulevard and Dodson Avenue.

Several children attended the event, and some took to the podium to share how the center and its staff have impacted their lives.

"This center is going to save lives," city Councilman Anthony Byrd said. "There's a lot of people out here who feel hopeless and feel like no one cares about them and feel like they're unheard or unseen because an investment like this doesn't too often happen."

He said when children dream of things like this and they see them come true, it gives them "hope and passion to know that their dreams can come true."

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Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who also attended, announced plans for a new facility just days after a fiery speech by Kevin Muhammad, of the local Nation of Islam, on behalf of a coalition of concerned citizen groups. He called for alternatives to the mayor's plan to spend $1 million in additional funds on public safety in 2016.

"This is an investment in the people of Avondale," Berke said. "We know that when we invest in people Chattanooga will be better off in the long run."

The facility will include a larger gymnasium with bleachers, a library, and labs for computers and reading. It also will have a larger softball field and improved basketball courts.

"We took your input. We listened to what was important to you, and we are building a center that incorporates your ideas into the design," Berke told audience members. "Now, we're going to have a new center that's designed specifically for your neighborhood. With this center being built, we're going to see more of our mission being realized — to break down the barriers that prevent people from living the life they want in our community."

The construction time for the facility will take about a year from the time development begins in February.

Toward the end of the event, people went outside for a symbolic shoveling of sand upon the area where the new facility will be built. They gathered around a pile of white sand and took turns digging a shovel into the sand pile, but not before it was broken up after moisture in the sand froze solid.

"Everyone was just ramped up, and I think just the love and the excitement kept us warm," Byrd said of the cold.

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.

A previous version of this story stated construction time would take about 100 days.

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