The community center at Riverside’s Villegas Park, where young people can box or play basketball and older folks gather in the mornings for coffee and conversation, is getting some long-awaited upgrades.
“We’ve been looking forward to it,” 76-year-old Harvey Zamora, a volunteer at the community center, said Thursday, Dec. 5.
Zamora and a handful of other old-timers from the Casa Blanca neighborhood were sipping coffee in a modular building that’s standing in for the now gutted community center. Built in 1972, the center will get new lighting, a game room and new office space, a more formal entryway with a lobby, and – most important, Parks Director Ralph Nuñez said – an expanded kitchen.
“Whenever there’s a community meeting, (or) something’s taking place, food’s always part of it,” Nuñez said.
The $3.4 million project should take about a year. It also includes redoing a soccer field, parking lot and several outbuildings, and will create a new courtyard for two monuments – one honoring men from Casa Blanca who died in military service, and another that memorializes Ysmael Villegas, the soldier killed in World War II for whom the park and community center are named.
The start of work is a relief for residents, who had to wait nearly two years while the project funding was in limbo, said Councilman Paul Davis, who represents Casa Blanca. Continued improvements to our park facilities is important in order for Riverside to remain a Location of Choice – an important aspect of Seizing Our Destiny. Providing spaces for the community to meet also helps to foster Riverside as a Unified City.
The Villegas Park improvements were intended to be a redevelopment project, and the city had issued bonds to pay for the work several years before state legislators dissolved redevelopment agencies in 2011. But preparing specifications and getting bids takes time, Davis said, and that process wasn’t finished when state finance officials stepped in to review all proposed expenditures of former redevelopment money.