Chelsea Sees Progress Toward Multigenerational Community Center


Downtown Chelsea. Photo courtesy of Doug Marrin.

In partnership with 5 Healthy Towns Foundation (5HT), Chelsea Hospital, the Chelsea School District, and others, the city of Chelsea is now one step closer to turning its community center vision into reality. During its September 5 City Council meeting, the council voted unanimously to provide a letter of support to 5HT, as the nonprofit applies for a grant from the State of Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) to be used toward the establishment and/or improvement of Community Center programs.

Many area residents know Chelsea has been exploring the idea of a community center since at least 2016, driven by the community’s desire for a space that fosters wellness, education, and community engagement for residents of all ages. Through a task force created specifically to investigate the concept’s feasibility, the city conducted a community survey in 2022. According to that survey, almost 90% of respondents were, “‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ supportive of the idea of a Community Center in Chelsea.”

From there, the city and its partners created a working group whose purpose was to review and analyze the results of the survey, provide operational scenarios based on survey responses, explore the viability of various options, and expand partnerships that could enhance the viability of the project. While the efforts produced a robust portfolio of options, they all included two unavoidable barriers: planning complexity and insurmountable cost.

After six months spent reviewing these options–some of which included a remodeling of the Chelsea Wellness Center and new construction-–it was determined that the best and quickest way to satisfy some of the community’s core requests, as determined by the 2022 survey, was to make use of unused and underused space already owned or operated by one of the project’s collaborators. These spaces include an unused administrative portion of the Chelsea Wellness Center and gymnasiums and other large spaces in schools.

While the project’s collaborators agree that being able to locate these multigenerational services and programs in one location is ideal for the long-term benefit of area residents, complexity and cost simply don’t allow for it at this time. So, rather than just applying for LEO’s capital funding grant, the group has decided to also take advantage of their program funding grant. This would allow the partner coalition to use the funds to enhance existing programs and subsidize new ones, as well as begin the remodeling of existing space.

In whatever form, the proposed community center project will fill an important role in providing wellness resources and services to the approximately 30,000 residents of the 5 Healthy Towns region, which encompasses Chelsea, Grass Lake, Dexter, Manchester, and Stockbridge. According to the city’s letter of support, the center is expected to host an array of programs including but not limited to community education initiatives, family fitness activities, food assistance projects, senior engagement programs, community safety, youth volunteer programs, after-school childcare services, and more.

The unanimous vote of support from the Chelsea City Council underscores the city's commitment to this endeavor. Now they, along with their tireless coalition of partners guided by 5HT’s CEO Steve Petty, eagerly await the decision from LEO, which is expected sometime in October. If successful, this grant will serve as a significant catalyst in bringing more and better multigenerational community programs to the area.

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