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Projects have Elyria's south side on cusp of change

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    Lorain County Urban League President and CEO Frank Whitfield speaks during the “State of South Elyria” presentation held at Second Baptist Church, in Elyria, on Thursday night, Jan. 19.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Fund for our Economic Future Director of Regional Engagement Kevin Alin speaks during the “State of South Elyria” presentation held at Second Baptist Church, in Elyria, on Thursday night, Jan. 19.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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ELYRIA — The spark of change has ignited residents’ spirits on the south side of Elyria.

It started in November when Elyria voters agreed to rebuild the elementary and middle schools throughout the city. The south side will get a new elementary building at the Hamilton School site and a multimillion-dollar rebuild of Ely Stadium.

The construction plans have prompted questions about resources and opportunities in the community, especially as Hamilton’s Head Start program and the Elyria Public Library System will have to find new homes to make way for Hamilton’s demolition.

At Second Baptist Church on Thursday, dozens of residents sought answers in the first State of South Elyria address with presentations from groups including the Fund for Our Economic Future, Lorain County Urban League, Elyria Schools and YES Zone, a United Way of Greater Lorain County collaborative.

“We have a unique opportunity that we can’t miss,” said Urban League President and CEO Frank Whitfield, noting that community leaders want to hear from residents as plans take shape. “It’s not about what they are doing. It’s about what we are doing.”

More residents voted in favor of recent library and school tax issues, an indicator that they support community initiatives. Community organizations also are working together to maximize returns without duplicating efforts in youth engagement and workforce development.

And residents said they feel energized by the idea of new facilities in the neighborhood, but want more than lip service.

“I’ve seen a lot of change. I’ve seen a lot of things come and go in this neighborhood,” said 30-year resident Brenda Warren. “I’ve seen services be taken away. But I have the mindset to be a change agent for the south side of Elyria.”

Warren, of 10th Street, said keeping Head Start and the library in the neighborhood is imperative to help children succeed in school.

Stephen Gettis, a 1993 Elyria High School graduate who mentors Elyria youth through the Ambassador Brothers of Lorain County and Save Our Children, said the lack of resources in the neighborhood compared to what was available during his youth is staggering.

“My concern is my 5-year-old son and his friends,” he said. “What will the south side of Elyria look like, and what kind of programs and resources will exist in this community for my son and his friends?”

For starters, a new school and stadium with construction of the latter starting in the coming months, said Elyria Schools Superintendent Tom Jama.

“This is millions in construction coming back to the south side,” he said.

And, possibly a library, said Lyn Crouse, the Elyria Public Library’s director.

“We want to stay in the neighborhood because it’s an area that I believe needs us,” she said.

City Councilman Marcus Madison, D-5th Ward, said he feels a new energy in the neighborhood.

“We are at a tipping point in this community,” he said. “This is exactly what we talked about happening here. Thomas Shores and Herman Larkins said the day would come when our schools would return to being the cornerstones in the community, we would get a new stadium, Middle Avenue would be rebuilt, and this community would come back to life. We are here to say the time is now. This is our community, and we are not just going to ask permission anymore.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.



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