A dream takes shape along Dudley Street: Kroc Center, with $115 million price tag, will be region’s largest

Kroc CenterKroc CenterLess than a year after the ground-breaking, construction at the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center – the largest social service facility in New England history – is nearing completion.

The center, located on 6.5 acres of land in Uphams Corner, is being built at a cost of more than $115 million. Once opened next April it will offer Dorchester residents of all ages a full range of services including education, entertainment, sports, and social gatherings.

The center is one of 25 such facilities that the Kroc Foundation, a charitable organization started by the owners of McDonald’s fast-food chain, committed in 1998 to construct throughout the country.  With seven already completed, the center in Uphams Corner will be the largest so far. It will offer more services than the others, including basketball courts, soccer fields and a gigantic pool with a two-story slide, senior citizen activities, job training and employment opportunities for the out of work and daycare for working parents.

The Foundation’s principal partners in the undertaking have been the Salvation Army, which will operate the Center once it is completed, and the city of Boston, which is viewing it as a godsend in providing services to one of the poorest neighborhoods, one that has seen more than its share of violent deaths.

To underscore a community-wide commitment to the project, the Salvation Army, the Menino administration, and a committee headed by longtime Boston banker John Hamill that is made up of a substantial number of Boston executives and philanthropists complied with a fund-raising request from the Kroc Foundation and gathered $35 million in private funds to help complete construction.

And neighborhood residents have played prominent roles in shaping the facility through community input sessions and grassroots fund raising efforts. “This has been a dream of the community for more than 20 years,” said Travis Watson, a Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) community organizer. Watson said he has taken part in more than 150 community input and “design studio” meetings meant to ensure that the Kroc Center reflects the needs and values of the neighborhood.

One product of these community meetings takes the form of what the Salvation Army calls its “peace chapel,” a nondenominational quiet space meant to give Dorchester residents a chance to remember loved ones lost to violence. The chapel offers a view of Dudley Street and will house a small electronics station in which families can play home videos and pictures of friends and families.

“With so many unfortunate deaths in this community, we were asked to create a safe place for families to remember, to reflect,” said Major Robert Kountz, who has served as head administrator for the Kroc facility during construction.

Beyond providing residents with the opportunity to reflect, the Kroc Center is also meant to be a place where people can grow through education and play. A full-sized commercial kitchen is under construction and, when completed, it will not only provide snacks at an on-site cafe but also serve as a classroom for men and women looking for employment during the current economic downturn.

“People have told us they can already handle the basic fast food stuff,” Kountz said. “What they really need is a chance to become chefs, to move up in the work force.” To that end, the Salvation Army has formed partnerships with restaurant associations and culinary schools in order to bring in professional trainers and, eventually, job placement for Kroc graduates.

The Kroc Center will also feature a state-of-the-art computer lab that will be open to the public throughout the day, offering students a place to study after school while adults can enjoy high-speed internet access. Kountz said the electronic library will maximize space in the facility and give kids a chance to make and edit their own films through the use of donated digital video equipment.

“Children today are amazing with technology,” Kountz said. “The community told us they wanted a place where kids can put those skills to work, a place where kids can learn skills they need to work in new high tech fields.”

While the Salvation Army plans to offer job training and employ more than 25 residents in full-time and roughly 80 more in part-time positions, the construction process itself has created dozens of employment opportunities for local workers and small business owners to work alongside development giant Suffolk Construction.

Watson said 51 percent of the workforce is made up of residents living within a mile radius of the Kroc Center, 51 percent of all workers are from minority groups, and 15 percent of all construction crews are female, making it one of the most diverse work sites in city history.

“These are some of the highest numbers we have ever seen in Boston,” Watson said. “This is changing the way Suffolk is thinking about its business.”

The DSNI and Salvation Army have also taken considerable efforts to ensure that roughly one in every five workers is an apprentice, offering individuals exposure and experience working on a major construction project that could open doors to future employment.

“As an apprentice, you need to go from job site to job site working as your own advocate, but it’s an entirely subjective process,” Watson said. “We wanted to help new workers get their foot in the door, offer a chance to prove themselves.”

The Kroc Center represents years of work, but The Salvation Army promises many years of play when its doors open next spring.

Residents looking to escape the summer heat will be able to drop into the Kroc’s massive swimming pool, which offers a zero-depth entry and aquatic play center to ensure a safe, fun experience for new swimmers. More daring waders will be able to enjoy a two-story water slide that curves outside the Kroc Center walls, while a lazy river with varying flow speeds will offer swimmers a chance to relax or swim against the current for exercise.

On the dry side, the Kroc will feature a full-sized soccer pitch, which can be converted into a football field, two high school basketball courts that can be combined into a single college regulation-sized court, and a large artificial rock face for mountain climbing.

Kountz took particular pride in the climbing course, which requires teams of children to lift one another up to the summit before they can enjoy a panoramic view of the Boston skyline. “We wanted to teach children the value of teamwork, the lessons that you need to help pull each other to the top and ask themselves, ‘Did you think you could make it?’ ” Kountz said.

With more than 40 major donors, the Kroc Community Center is the culmination of years of intense fund raising efforts all across the city of Boston. Capital campaign director Jack Peters said a total of $115.5 million has been funneled into the project, with more than half of the money directed towards construction and land acquisition. A total of $50 million has been placed into an endowment fund meant to cover half of the Kroc’s $4 million annual operating budget.

Peters said Mayor Menino was “an incredible leader” throughout the planning and development process and that Sovereign Bank executive John Hamill played a major role in making the Kroc Center a reality. For his part, Menino offered compliments to his fellow Bostonians for their efforts.

“During a difficult economic time, when construction projects are stalling and nonprofits are struggling, it has taken true commitment, vision, and collaboration among The Salvation Army and the local community to bring this project to life,” the mayor said in a statement to the Reporter.

“This place is a true blessing,” said Major Irving McCoy of the Salvation Army, who will be in charge of the Center’s multi-phased programming with his wife Anna, also a major in the Salvation Army. His enthusiasm is shared by a South Boston electrician who one day recently was putting the finishing touches on a light fixture in the senior center wing.

“I want to bring my kids in to show them what Daddy helped make,” he said.

Major contributors to Kroc campaign
The Salvation Army and the Menino Administration committed to raising $35 million in private donations to assure the Kroc Foundation's appropriating $80 million for construction of the Center in Uphams Corner. The following foundations, companies and individuals contributed $100,000 or more as part of that private fundraising campaign.
Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund, Bank of America, Citizens Bank Foundation, Gary Countryman, Paul & Phyllis Fireman Foundation, John Fish – Suffolk Construction Red and Blue Foundation, The Flatley Foundation, John and Kathryn Hamill, Hill Holliday, Jack Connors Family Foundation.
Ted and Bessie Kelly, Liberty Mutual Foundation, The Ludcke Foundation, MFS Investment Services, Andrew and Gail Mills, NSTAR, Thomas Phillips, Arthur Remillard Family Foundation, Mable Louise Riley Foundation, Raymond Russell.
Alfred Sawyer Trust, The Schrafft Foundation, Sovereign Bank of New England Foundation, David and Stephanie Spina, The Strate Family and Friends in memory of Ann Strate, Edwin Webster Foundation, James and Jane Wilson.
Source: Salvation Army Capital Campaign