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Potlatch teens lose their safe Landing

POTLATCH – After four years in operation, the Potlatch Landing Community Center has closed because of funding mishaps.

The transfer of state grant funding and decreased monetary assistance from the Potlatch Recreation District forced the “Landing,” as it is called, to close at the beginning of the month, said Kathi Nygaard, one of four Potlatch women who helped found the community center.

Nygaard said she was “crushed” to see the center close.

“We worked hard to keep the Landing open because it means so much for the future of our community,” she said.

The idea for the community center came about around the time the Latah County Youth Advocacy Council was formed. On the council’s executive board and involved in Potlatch school activities, Nygaard helped form a community coalition called Let’s Get It Started. Their goals, she said, were to establish an after-school program and recreation center, and let community members know that there were activities in the small town.

“Alcohol has always been kind of the drug of choice for Potlatch residents,” Nygaard said. “… It was not really seen as an issue. We wanted to show kids that there were things that you could do.”

The Landing opened in March 2013 in a small building at 230 Sixth St. After a year, Nygaard said the after-school program there brought in more kids than the space could hold. The community center then moved to its most recent location, at 535 Pine St.

The Potlatch Recreation District provided the Landing with $10,000 annually to cover rent and some other maintenance expenses. Nygaard, along with the other founders of the Landing – Debi Dockins, Jennifer Anderson and Julie Lusby – volunteered their time to run programs there, clean the building and coordinate reservations for other community groups that used the center.

“They are pretty special,” Potlatch Mayor Dave Brown said, tearing up.

Nygaard and her fellow founders wanted to amp up the Landing’s programming, and applied twice for a 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant.

On their third application, the city of Potlatch received the grant. The funds, awarded starting this school year, come from the Idaho Department of Education.

Dockins collaborated with Let’s Get It Started, the city of Potlatch, and the school district to write the grant. The city is the fiscal agent of the grant, with the Landing and the school district partnering to administer programs. Brown said the grant provided funding over five years to establish an after-school program for seventh- through 12th-grade students at the community center and at the junior-senior high school.

Ultimately, no program was established at the Landing.

The four founders could no longer maintain the building on a volunteer basis, and had hoped the state grant could be used to help hire staff at the Landing. However, Brown said the grant funds – $189,000 in the first year – cover the hiring of five positions that solely administer the programs.

“The grant wasn’t as we had perceived it to be,” Nygaard said.

The after-school program is now housed only at the junior-senior high school, Brown said.

The Landing then asked the recreation district for more funding to help keep the center going, Nygaard said.

“We’d asked for double what we had normally received and they actually cut what we normally receive by 40 percent,” she said.

Brown, a board member of the recreation district, said one of the reasons the annual funding was cut to $6,000 was because of a high number of other funding requests to the district.

“There just really wasn’t the money there,” Brown said.

The district later offered an alternate opportunity for an after-school program, but Nygaard said that option still would not have covered the cost to pay staff to manage the community center.

“There was just no way we could do that,” she said.

It’s not known if the Potlatch Landing Community Center will reopen.

“This was my baby,” Nygaard said.

Brown said everyone is “very sad” about the Landing’s closure, but hopes something like it can exist again in Potlatch in the future.

“I know that’s a big dream, and it’s a dream of mine, too, to help them get that going,” he said. “It is a big loss.”


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