The writer Henry Willard Austin once said that what appears to be genius is often “but perseverance in disguise.”
Coeur d’Alene may have relied on both to bring the city’s impressive new community center to reality. A measure of good fortune helped, too.
Officially known as the Salvation Army Kroc Corps Community Center, the $38 million facility opened its doors Monday to a boisterous turnout that proves a quarter of a century without such a facility was not due to any lack of public interest.
In 1983, two buildings that previously served as Coeur d’Alene High School constituted an inadequate and neglected community center. It was vacated against a backdrop of hopes for a renovation plan that would produce a combination library, community center and senior center. That didn’t happen, because a razor-thin majority vote fell well short of the two-thirds margin required. Another ballot attempt in 1999 failed.
Community leaders who lamented the lack of a public swimming pool or other recreational resources didn’t give up.
That’s where the good fortune part entered the picture in the form of a lavish philanthropic gesture by Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. In her will, Kroc left $1.6 billion to underwrite a number of community centers, working through the Salvation Army.
It was an extraordinary opportunity – a grant would cover construction and an endowment to support operating expenses – but the competition was predictably daunting. Coeur d’Alene rolled up its sleeves.
What followed was a clinic in perseverance – or genius.
The grant money, if it came through, couldn’t be used to buy land, so the city had to engineer a land swap through the private nonprofit Coeur d’Alene Parks Foundation to circumvent church-state difficulties related to the Salvation Army’s role. Even so, the proposal had to withstand protests from the national Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
After being chosen as Idaho’s representative in the grant application, Coeur d’Alene went up against a dozen larger cities to make its case. And to meet its obligation to come up with $6 million in matching money, the community had to conduct the largest fundraising drive in its history.
Challenges posed; challenges met.
So, on Monday, the doors opened at the 123,000-square-foot facility on Golf Course Road, and an eager public quickly availed itself of the fitness and recreation facilities, the video games and sound studio, the playgrounds and café. Twenty-six years is a long time to wait.
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