Vision closer to reality

Published 11:41 pm Friday, May 6, 2011

Groundbreaking: Salvation Army officials, City Council members and capital fund donors break ground on a new physical health and education building on Bank Street. The project will result in a 22,400-square-foot building.

A dream is one step closer to coming true for the Suffolk Salvation Army and the community surrounding its building on Bank Street.

Salvation Army board members and employees, city officials and capital campaign donors gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony Friday morning at the empty lot next to the organization’s existing building at 400 Bank St. The organization plans to build a community center there with basketball courts, a computer room and more.

“This will have an impact on the city of Suffolk,” Maj. Cal Clatterbuck said. “It started with a vision. The Bible says without vision, men perish.”

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That vision was a long time coming. It was delayed during negotiations with Norfolk Southern, which previously owned the property, and a capital campaign that took longer than expected. But things are expected to begin moving quickly. Salvation Army leaders said Friday the project will be advertised for construction bids soon.

The new, 22,400-square-foot building also will include locker rooms, three classrooms, and a wellness center. The Salvation Army envisions that it will host community programs, after-school resources, physical and moral health programs and more.

Speakers at the groundbreaking event reminisced about the Salvation Army’s beginnings in Suffolk and about childhood football games played on the empty lot.

“This corner has always been a sanctuary for those that were looking for God and guidance and just a helping hand,” Councilman Charles Parr said. “If this facility saves just one soul, this facility is a priceless facility.”

The computer lab will be especially valuable, Mayor Linda T. Johnson said.

“There’s so many people that don’t have a computer,” she said. “Without the technology today, you just can’t get ahead. I can’t wait to see that ribbon being cut.”

Many at the event acknowledged the role board member Bobby Harrell had in making the vision come true.

“Without his efforts and calls and prodding and being on top of things and writing grants and making calls to congressmen and senators, we would not be here today,” said George Birdsong, honorary co-chair of the capital campaign and chair of the Obici Healthcare Foundation.

Birdsong announced that the foundation this week approved a $50,000 gift to the capital campaign to add to its $50,000 gift from last year.

Harrell also announced that the men’s locker room would be named after Charles Christian, a longtime Salvation Army board member and high school basketball coach who died recently.

“I think that’s fitting and due and proper,” Harrell said.

The donors to the capital program were recognized at the ceremony. Logan Carr, a student at First Baptist Christian School, was especially noted for holding a fundraiser to gather $875 for the project. The capital campaign also raised $628,000 by offering naming rights for portions of the building.