By Crystal Simmons
Jan Sexton, the director of Precinct 4’s community centers and Encore! program, is well versed in providing more with less. She has spent years overseeing a community center and an activity building that provide programs for 1.2 million residents in an area covering 390 square miles.
“We serve the largest population in the county, but offer the fewest number of community centers,” said Sexton. “We’ve had to find creative ways to expand our programs. We now partner with 23 community organizations.”
But as Precinct 4’s population has grown, Sexton has seen the need for a new community center. An opportunity presented itself in 2017, when Hurricane Harvey severely damaged a popular church community center in northern Harris County.
Since the 1970s, the Cypress Creek Christian Community Center’s sprawling campus has served as a gathering place for community groups. In its heyday, it hosted the programs of 120 organizations, said Norma Lowrey, director of the Cypress Creek Christian Community Center.
But all that changed when Harvey flooded the church and its community center. Even with insurance, the church couldn’t afford to repair its facilities.
A close partnership with Harris County Precinct 4 eventually prompted church leaders to meet with Precinct 4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle to sell part of the campus to the county so it could be transformed into a place everyone could enjoy. Cagle saw the value of providing a new community center for the area and led Precinct 4’s purchase of the facility in December 2018 for $1.25 million, with an agreement that the church would retain the other community center buildings.
“It was the best of all possible outcomes,” said Lowrey. “This is going to be a great enhancement to an already fabulous corner of the world.”
At 24,500 square feet, the facility will be Precinct 4’s largest community center. Renamed the President George H.W. Bush Community Center, the center is near the Barbara Bush Branch Library and Precinct 4’s Collins Park in the heart of the Cypress Creek Cultural District. It is expected to open in early 2021.
“We chose the property for a variety of reasons,” said Cagle. “The community center stands in a densely populated area near Precinct 4’s Collins and Meyers parks. The facility’s large size ensures we can accommodate Precinct 4’s growing population.”
The center will offer a variety of intergenerational programs and services for people of all ages, along with public events, activities, and public meeting spaces.
“This will be Precinct 4’s premier center, with a grand hall that will seat 700 people, making it a prime location for town hall meetings, banquets, receptions, workshops, indoor festivals, and many other types of civic events,” said Sexton. “It will also be available for private reservations.”
Until the facility opens, Mangum-Howell Center continues to serve as Precinct 4’s only dedicated community center.
“The George H.W. Bush Community Center will allow us to offer more programs than ever because of its size,” said Sexton. “We view the community center as a place where people can come together and build relationships.”
News of the center is already generating buzz within the community. Champions-area resident and community advocate Rita Huggler was one of the first to learn about the new facility.
“I’m just excited,” she said. “This place has such wonderful possibilities for our community. Residents will be able to use the facility for meetings, yoga, crafts, and much more. It’s also in an area with lots of retirees who look for these types of programs and activities.”