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A COVID–19 groundbreaking

(From left) Major Annalise Francis, Major Suzanne Hickman, Ashland Mayor Matt Miller, and Major Evan Hickman break ground for the expansion. The Hickmans are the divisional commanders in NEOSA.

Major Annalise Francis called it a “private groundbreaking.”

Only a few invited guests were on hand and, due to COVID-19, most people watched via Facebook as the Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Ashland, Ohio, broke ground for a $7.2-million indoor water park and fitness center expansion on May 8.

“We were able to do it with some social distancing and masks and we tried to keep everybody as safe as we could and do something to commemorate the occasion,” said Francis, the Kroc Center administrator.

Among the small group on hand was Majors Evan and Suzanne Hickman, divisional leaders in the Northeast Ohio Division; several state, county, and local elected officials, including Ashland Mayor Matt Miller; advisory board members; and the media.

Recalling the April 2009 dedication of the Kroc Center, Major Evan Hickman said, “God knew He wasn’t done on this property. God knew there was more for Ashland, Ohio.”

Miller said the original Kroc Center campaign was summarized by “Catch the faith, catch the hope, catch the excitement.”

“Catch the spirit of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the power of God to change lives through the work to be done in this place,” the mayor said.

The groundbreaking audience might have been purposely small, but the event was streamed on the Kroc Center’s Facebook page and on another local media page called Ashland County Pictures.

“Between the two streams, we had over 4,000 people who watched it live,” Francis said.

An aerial view of the $7.2–million expansion. The indoor water park that will open next year at the Ashland, Ohio, Kroc Center.

Francis said one of the Kroc Center’s most popular attractions is its outdoor spray park, but it can only be enjoyed a few months a year, weather permitting.

“Being able to have an indoor water facility will really be a wonderful offering for the community,” she said. “Ashland is a pretty simple town and it’s really getting built up right now. I think our project is a piece of that.

“We don’t even have a movie theater. In the winter months especially, access to constructive and healthy things to do is limited. We have a bowling alley and a Walmart and not much beyond high school sports, so the community is excited about this opportunity.”

The 20,185–square–foot expansion will also include a multi–purpose room and a fitness center with locker rooms, elliptical trainers, treadmills, circuit training, and space for stretching and activities such as Pilates.

Francis said a recent survey by the Ashland County Health Department found 56 percent of the county’s youth fall into the obesity range.

“I think being able to have a health and wellness component here that’s affordable and accessible, along with access to recreational activities, is helpful,” she said. “It’s good for kids, who are getting exercise and it feels like fun.

“The kids are so excited for it. I think this expanded center will allow us to transform more lives and provide even greater hope to those in need with these additional amenities. I think we can have a much more holistic, transformative reach with this addition.”

The expansion, which is being funded through the original $1.5-billion gift to The Salvation Army from Ray and Joan Kroc, should open in the summer of 2021, Francis said.

“Even as people come in to enjoy these new amenities, we are looking forward to connecting them into our other wraparound services, whether it’s in youth, education, worship, or social services,” Francis said.

by Robert Mitchell