MANSFIELD -- Alomar Davenport has been outspoken in support of a new community center on the city's north side since the century-old Ocie Hill Neighborhood Center was closed in 2020.
That replacement -- an $8 million facility planned by the North End Community Improvement Collaborative -- moved another step forward Tuesday when the city administration announced plans to contribute $1.5 million toward the project.
The proposal using American Rescue Plan Act money was discussed during a finance committee meeting, though a council vote is not planned until May 4 on a total of $9 million in proposed spending announced Tuesday.
"The project that NECIC has put together is one that has been in the making for years," said Davenport, the 4th Ward representative and chair of council's city finance committee. "(It) is much needed in the 4th Ward. That need was exacerbated when we had to close Ocie Hill.
"I was one who voiced my support behind closing Ocie Hill because I felt throwing good money in a bad situation is not the way to go about it. But at that same time, I said that there needs to be a replacement for Ocie Hill."
The former Ocie Hill building at 445 Bowman St. was named for the first Black man to be elected to Mansfield City Council and the longest serving individual on council in the history of Mansfield, serving from 1961 to 1991.
Throughout the years, the building has been known as the old Creveling School, the Mansfield Opportunities Industrial Center, the Human Resource Bureau and the Neighborhood Youth Corps. In 1996, it was renamed for Hill, whose photo still hangs in council chambers.
Davenport praised NECIC founder and Executive Director Deanna West-Torrence for the plan, which the Richland County commissioners have discussed contributing as much as $2 million for from their ARPA funds.
"Deanna has stepped up and put a plan together on how to do it," Davenport said, crediting Mayor Tim Theaker for acknowledging the need for the new facility at 486 Springmill St.
Davenport said NECIC, which unveiled the plan at its annual meeting on March 30, will present its vision for putting it together at a future council meeting.
"This is something that we should be doing," he said.
West-Torrence is scheduled to meet again Friday with a combined steering committee that includes city and county elected officials, as well as various non-profit organizations, the Richland County Foundation, Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development, private residents and the Greater Ohio Policy Center.
West-Torrence said March 30 her organization is seeking to secure funding for the project through community partnerships and ARPA funds.
Kimberly Moton, who represents the 6th Ward on City Council, has participated on the steering committee.
"Sitting on this committee has definitely been an honor and a privilege," Moton said. "I've been able to take a look at not only the needs of the county, understanding the rules of ARPA, how monies have to be appropriated and allocated.
"On this committee, it consists of some business owners, as well as influential people within the community. We looked at the overall needs of what we were hearing from constituents, what we knew the needs were, and then tried from there as far as allocating and distributing funds appropriately."