At the corner of Long Beach Boulevard and Spring Street, the foundations are already in place. Construction of the new Long Beach Red Shield facility has been underway since January, with an aim to provide much-needed resources to the city. The Salvation Army plans to unveil the completed community center next summer, with a full slate of programs planned for Fall 2021.
The $9 million project will see the construction of an NBA-size basketball court, with an adjacent workout room, a soccer field, walking track, playground, and garden area. The facility will reside on the border of the city’s sixth and seventh council districts, serving the residents in those communities by providing them a safe, modern facility for sports, education, and other community activities.
“It’s time for us to build this community center; it’s time for us to meet this need,” said Melinda Lankford, Community Programs Director at the facility. “We know when we’re going after youth and trying to pull them out of the cycle of poverty, that sports, music, and the arts, those are the way to keep kids engaged in school. Some of our underprivileged kids, they don’t get to be on the AYSO or other club teams. They might have the ability, but not the same privileges. So we’re trying to provide them with an opportunity when they’re young.
“That’s our goal, that’s what we’re working towards, and that’s why we’re building this place.”
Lankford hopes that having a brand new facility will help attract some marquee events to the community. By building the basketball court to regulation size for the NBA, it creates the opportunity to host clinics with representatives from pro sports teams in the area like the Lakers, Clippers, or others. She also indicated a willingness to host camps in partnership with local schools, colleges, or other sports programs.
While the construction on the gymnasium and workout facility is ongoing, development of the adjacent soccer field is temporarily stuck in limbo. The field is scheduled to be constructed on the site of the old Salvation Army building which stood for 65 years along Spring Street. However, according to Lankford, there have been snags in putting the turf field down due to oil wells beneath that location. Lankford said the additional costs to cap the wells and mitigate the soil pollution would be too much for the Salvation Army to cover. There remains some hope for an amicable resolution with the city.
‘What they’re asking us to do would be above and beyond what we can do financially,” she explained. “It is a frustration because this is for the community. This is not something for us to make money off of.”
In the meantime, the current facility is being transformed into a virtual learning center for local families. Launching this week with space for 20 kids, Lankford and her team have worked to create a learning assistance program to provide a socially-distant workspace, with air conditioning, high-speed internet access, plus snacks and lunch provided. While there will be limited capacity, especially in the first few weeks, no child will be turned away for financial reasons. The service is meant to be provided at little or no cost to the family, in order to foster a productive education experience while kids are forced to attend school remotely. Lankford has gotten feedback from parents who are struggling with the demands of virtual learning, especially ones with multiple kids in the home.
“Our families are going crazy,” Lankford explained. “We’ve been getting these stories as Long Beach Unified is starting up. We knew we needed to get something started. We knew we could spread out and safely do it.”
The athletic facilities represent the final stage of development for the community center, and they will help address a direct need in the area. After attempts at building a Kroc Center at Chittick Field fell through just over a decade ago, the Salvation Army pivoted its plan to bring a sports complex to Long Beach.
When community funding for the project fell short and the plans for the Kroc Center were abandoned, Lankford says the community was confused and frustrated by what they perceived as a broken promise. She hopes this facility will make good on those efforts from years ago and finally deliver on those promises.
“This is what we feel like the community can support, and that is the completion of that Kroc dream,” Lankford said. “We’ve done a needs assessment in this area, and at-risk youth is one of the big needs, along with the fact that there wasn’t enough green space in this area. We are building this based on the needs of this community and the completion of that dream.”
Renderings courtesy The Salvation Army