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Community celebrates groundbreaking for construction of new, expanded Tolson Center

Elkhart residents, officials and community leaders gathered Tuesday evening to celebrate the groundbreaking for the new, expanded Tolson Center for Community Excellence.

The Elkhart city parks department ran the Tolson Center from its opening in the 1990s until 2018, when the city voted to stop funding it. After that, a nonprofit formed to reimagine the center as a community hub.

The common council voted to transfer ownership of the building to that nonprofit last summer, and a major part of that reimagining is building a new, modern facility.

The event kicked off at 5 p.m. with a party — complete with barbeque and a DJ — before the ceremony began at 6.

Breanna Allen, the center’s executive director, said the building marks a new chapter in its history.

“I thank each of you who have showed up for Tolson, have fought for Tolson, and continue to support Tolson,” Allen said. “We’re here to celebrate something special — a place that has been a staple in south-central Elkhart for the past 30 years.”

Allen said the new center will be twice as big as the old one, and will have basketball courts, dance and art rooms, a gym, cafeteria and a wellbeing space.

It will also work with other organizations to host programming on topics like financial literacy, early childhood education and peer development.

“Listen — y’all are going to want to be here, OK?” Allen said to applause. “Y’all are going to want to be here!”

Demolition of the old building and construction of the replacement will start next month, Allen said.

The new center is expected to open in fall 2023. It’s being built by DJ Construction and was designed by Meticulous Design + Architecture, a minority-owned firm.

The nonprofit has raised $11.7 million so far to fund the construction of the new center. The city contributed $5 million, as well as $700,000 a year for the next decade to maintain it.

Allen thanked the city, the Community Foundation of Elkhart County, the Lilly Endowment and other private donors for the support.

“That’s big, that’s a lot of money!” Allen said. “But there’s still a need to raise more money, and if you have interest or want to be a part of this amazing transformation in our community, please donate.”

The Tolson Center for Community Excellence is a financial supporter of WVPE.

Contact Jakob at jlazzaro@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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Jakob Lazzaro comes to Indiana from Chicago, where he graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and a double major in History. Before joining WVPE, he wrote NPR's Source of the Week e-mail newsletter, and previously worked for CalMatters, Pittsburgh's 90.5 WESA and North by Northwestern.