TAMPA — Hillsborough County plans to replace three buildings dating to the 1920s at Mann-Wagnon Memorial Park in Sulphur Springs with a new, multipurpose facility.
The county wants to demolish the buildings because of their age, but their history is one reason so many kids enjoy making art within their wooden walls.
The buildings, at 1101 E River Cove St., house Community Stepping Stones, Sulphur Springs Museum and Moses House — nonprofits dedicated to teaching the arts and preserving the community's history and culture.
"We have some serious problems with those buildings," County Commissioner Les Miller said. "I have tried to get money from the budget so we can put the three nonprofits out there into a decent building where they can do their programs."
The county said the goal of building a new facility is to better serve the needs of the community. But residents and leaders of the programs argue such change would displace the programs and take away a vital outlet for youth.
"The character of these buildings speaks to the whole story of the property from the Mann-Wagnon family and the neighborhood," said Linda Saul-Sena, a former Tampa City Council member and former chairwoman for Community Stepping Stones. "And its small-scale wooden buildings towered over by marvelous oak trees is that sense of home and shelter and safety that I think the kids really value."
The Mann-Wagnon family donated the buildings to the county and the land to Tampa. The city leases the land to the county, said Greg Bayor, Tampa's director of parks and recreation.
The county's parks and recreation department occupied the space until 2010, when the Arts Council of Hillsborough County arranged the space for the current nonprofits. The programs provide services for about 60 teens and 150 youths, including nature and art classes such as painting, Photoshop and pottery.
Ricky Durrance, 20, credits the art programs with giving him and other kids in the community an opportunity to learn.
Durrance is pursuing a program that would enable him to work as a sous chef. Ultimately, he wants to open his own restaurant so he can help other youths.
But the programs themselves are not at risk, Miller said. Instead, the decision comes down to safety.
"I understand what they are trying to do out there, but why would we put people in jeopardy to save buildings that could very well cause problems in the future?" Miller asked. "Here we are trying to give them space in a building that would be brand new that they could go in and make adjustments to and run their programs."
Based on an initial analysis, Miller said it would cost $550,000 to bring just one of the buildings up to code.
Updating all three would cost about $1 million, he said — while the county could build a new facility for $650,000.
The county will have an open forum Thursday to gather comments on the design and use of the facility.