Today’s news:

Federal grant augments funding for community center

Right now, it’s occupied by a vacant filling station.

But, if all goes as planned, an October groundbreaking at the lot, 8711 18th Avenue, will lead to a spanking new community center -- affectionately known as “il centro” -- that will enable the Federation of Italian American Organizations (FIAO) to broaden the wide array of services it currently provides to the community.

The total cost of constructing the 40,000-square-foot center is around $15 million, and, until recently, FIAO was about $2 million from its fund-raising goal.

However, $700,000 in federal money, allocated by Representative Michael McMahon through the Fiscal Year 2010 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill, will go a long way toward helping FIAO meet its financial objectives, said Jack Spatola, chairperson of the board of FIAO.

“I’m just happy to be able to help them get close to the finish line,” McMahon remarked.

Spatola told this paper that, with the federal money, the organization needs another $1 million to complete its plans, which include classrooms, a library, a meeting space, recreational facilities (including a pool and a gymnasium), exhibition spaces and offices on three floors, plus basement parking.

“We’re hoping to have an incredible community-cultural facility,” Spatola stressed. Area residents, he said, will be able to enjoy art exhibitions, as well as literary and musical events, at the center. In addition, in a more practical vein, the organization’s varied roster of social services -- from educational activities to assistance with government programs -- will be administered there.

The project was delayed, said Spatola, because FIAO decided to acquire the adjacent lot in order to build a larger center. However, once it begins, it should take between a year and a year and a half to complete, he said. The $1 million still needed to complete the plan would pay for the “high school-sized gymnasium,” Spatola said.

The center, Spatola stressed, “Will be open to all in the community,” and “will offer services for the entire family, seniors and youngsters.” Most of the center’s services, Spatola added, will be free of charge.

McMahon said that directing funding toward the construction of the community center would benefit everyone. “It’s a very worthwhile project, important for the Italian-American community and also for the greater community,” he told this paper.

“They’ve got a great operation that extends beyond the very important Italian-American community,” McMahon went on. “At a time when government budgets are getting more and more constricted, I’m happy to be partners with an organization like FIAO that can do things more efficiently.”

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