Pointing to the Future
The Salvation Army Kroc Center in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho
By Steve Blackburn
Sparked by the unlikely combination of a visionary fast-food heiress and the low-key, tradition-bound Salvation Army, an innovative national program is expanding the concept of what a community center can be.
Initiated by a 2004 $1.8 billion gift from the late Joan Kroc, wife of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc, the ambitious program seeks to build 28 community centers in underserved regions throughout the country. Five of the centers are now open and an additional nine centers are expected to open by the end of next year.
The inspiration for the national program stemmed from the success of a community center Mrs. Kroc funded in San Diego in 1998. Built in a multi-ethnic neighborhood by The Salvation Army, the center substantially expanded the activities and services found in the typical community center. Constructed on a 12-acre site, the center includes an ice arena, gymnasium, three pools, rock climbing walls, a performing arts theater, an Internet-based library, computer lab, and a school of visual and performing arts.
Kroc envisioned centers where people of all ages and backgrounds could gather for self-improvement and holistic growth. She insisted the money be divided equally among The Salvation Army's four geographical territories—Central, Eastern, Southern and Western—and that communities wanting to pursue building a Kroc Center demonstrate their support of the concept by raising a portion of the money needed for the project.
The Kroc Centers present a unique opportunity to successfully combine multiple community functions—church, library, education center, cultural performing arts facility and recreation center—in one all-encompassing complex, resulting in considerable operational savings and increased usage. The intent no longer is to separate user groups such as seniors or teens, but create a place for all community members, as families and individuals, to come together and mix in new ways, as well as enjoy activities specifically designed for their interests and age group.
There is no one specific design template for the Kroc Centers. To varying degrees, each center differs in size, cost and specific amenities. But each center strives to bring together on one site an array of community services and activities, allowing one-stop-shopping for families and others regardless of age and interests.
The Coeur d'Alene Kroc Center, which opened in May 2009, generally typifies what The Salvation Army and Joan Kroc had in mind for what the Kroc Centers should be.
Located on a 12-acre site, the center includes a 400-seat chapel that doubles as a performing arts theater for plays, concerts and other fine arts presentations. Accessible from the indoor theater area is an outdoor amphitheater with a 100-seat terrace and an expansive lawn for additional seating.
There are community rooms for corporate events, meetings, birthday parties and other social events. A commercial kitchen and catering department provides food for these events. The Kroc Café offers snacks and barista service to guests enjoying "The Lodge" living room.
A game room includes three Nintendo Wii units for exercise and play. Think your garage band is destined for the big time? The center also has a recording studio to cut your first CD.
The 14,000-square-foot multi-activity court (MAC) gymnasium is large enough for the simultaneous playing of three team sports—basketball, volleyball, soccer, et al—with room for 240 spectators. There is space for more than 1,000 participants when the space is combined for graduations and similar events.