After decades of hoping, the Avondale community will finally have a new state-of-the-art youth and family development center this weekend.
The new center, which opens to the public Saturday, is 22,550 square feet of hope and an opportunity to look forward for the often-overlooked community, according to District 8 Councilman Anthony Byrd.
"This is a joyous occasion for the community and the city of Chattanooga. So many constituents have hoped and prayed for this day, which has been 10-20 years in the making," Byrd said Wednesday ahead of a tour of the facility. "I call it our dream coming true, so we're getting ready to have a walk through our dream and the community's dream."
Avondale's existing facility, built in 1949, is a small, weathered building with water-stained bricks at the corner of Dodson Avenue and Wilcox Boulevard. On the same lot as the new facility, it serves as a visible representation of change as the city unveils the new $10 million center.
"This community, if you move through it, has a lot of letdowns and to just see how this was formed and to come to the old center, to [community members], it was a fun thing because of the staff and the coaches and everyone there uplifting the place, but it was kind of a reflection of a lot of the dilapidation they see in their community," Byrd said. "When they see this place, they see that their dreams are for real, that things are possible and they can see that people do care."
If you go
What: YFD center grand opening, featuring games, performances and speakers
When: 1-5 p.m., Saturday
Where: 1305 Dodson Ave.
The new facility — comprised of community rooms, a public library, a dance studio, multiple classrooms and a gymnasium — has an occupancy of just over 2,000 people and is large enough to fit more than four of the old facility within it.
"This is a great day for Chattanooga and for the Avondale-East Chattanooga community and one of Mayor [Andy] Berke's great visions to improve the community," YFD Director Lurone "Coach" Jennings said. "I'm excited to be here and that we're preparing for the grand opening to bless this community. Other things will come as a result of this."
The main entrance of the facility opens into a large community room, or "teen lounge," with seating, lockers and table-top games to serve as a "decompression" space for students coming from school, according to YFD Deputy Administrator Jason McKinney. At the back of the first room is a dance studio where the center will host dance classes after school and on weekends for community members.
Further into the facility is a public library, the Chattanooga Public Library system's first such shared-space branch, with 1,300 books, computers and hot spots for checkout by library members, ample seating and desk space, and a maker space with creative technology, such as a 3-D printer and vinyl cutter.
"We're just really looking forward to being in this community," Public Library Executive Director Corinne Hill said. "This is the Chattanooga Public Library's first experience sharing space, and we're super excited because our service delivery methods are very similar to YFD's."
The YFD center will be open:
Monday-Thursday: 9 a.m.-8 p.m.
Friday: 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
Immediately outside of the library is another seating area and common room, adorned with a piece of art from the original center, titled "Maiden Voyage," created by local artist Charlie Newton and "helpers" from the center.
On the other side of that wall is a large multipurpose room with a kitchen and wall dividers where the center can host community events and meetings for up to 300 people.
Past the events room is the center's crowning jewel: a 1,350-person gymnasium with bucket-seat bleachers and enough square footage to fit the entire original YFD center inside.
While the facility took decades, pitches to three mayors and an enormous amount of funding, city employees hope the roughly 70 community members served by the existing facility will as much as triple.
"There were a lot of challenges and a lot of competing objectives, you know. We had to try and build a facility that's needed and that everybody wants and trying to keep it within budget and on schedule as much as possible," Assistant City Engineer Dennis Malone said Wednesday, noting that community members had honked in excitement as they drove passed the beginning stages of construction.
Avondale's new YFD center will have a grand opening to the public Saturday from 1-5 p.m.