Community groups: Why is it taking so long to get King-Kennedy center’s doors fixed?

City officials criticized over malfunctioning doors at the King-Kennedy Memorial Center

Community groups say city officials have ignored their repeated request to replace the malfunctioning automatic doors at the entrance of the King-Kennedy Memorial Center in west Modesto, California.
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Community groups say city officials have ignored their repeated request to replace the malfunctioning automatic doors at the entrance of the King-Kennedy Memorial Center in west Modesto, California.

Community groups say the front doors have been malfunctioning for about three years at the King-Kennedy Memorial Center in west Modesto, so they’re asking the City Council and city staff: Why is it taking so long to fix this?

The groups went to Tuesday’s council meeting and chastised city officials for postponing the door replacement, saying the city has ignored their repeated requests.

Sterling Fountain, a member of the center’s board of directors, says city officials have delayed the replacement of the doors because there hadn’t been enough money in the budget to fund the estimated $60,000 job. She said they’re proud of the center, but the city seems to disregard it.

“It’s one excuse after another,” Fountain told the council. “It’s a maintenance issue. It should not be a budget issue.”

Modesto City Manager Joe Lopez told the council the project to replace the doors has been allocated in the 2018-2019 budget, and it’s in the bidding phase. The bidding was expected to be completed by the end of this month, and Lopez said the doors could be replaced by late November or early December.

The center, next to Mellis Park along North Martin Luther King Drive, hosts a variety of free programs and youth activities for neighborhood residents. It has an auditorium with a stage, kitchen and classroom-style meeting room.

“It’s a shame how you’re putting this off,” said Mack Wilson, a member of the King-Kennedy seniors group, which meets weekly. “You need to work with us, not against us.”

Fountain said she and others made the same plea at a meeting in November, telling the council then that the doors had not been working properly since 2015. She said they met with city staffers after the meeting, and they were assured that the doors would be replaced soon.

“With the city misleading us, we just got to the point where we’re not going to take it anymore,” Fountain said about why they spoke at the council meeting. “We’re going to be at the City Council meeting every time that they meet until this problem has been rectified.”

She told the council members that city officials promised the project would go out for bidding by early August. Fountain told the council that it appears the city administration doesn’t fulfill its promises when it comes to the King-Kennedy center.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Councilwoman Kristi Ah You called the center a beacon of hope for west Modesto residents.

“We need to follow up with you ... and we need to take care of business,” Ah You told the community groups.

The councilwoman asked the city manager if he thinks it would take three years to fix the doors at the entrance of City Hall if they were malfunctioning.

Lopez said he’s certain there are many variables involved, but city officials are looking into the issue to get it done as soon as possible while fulfilling the city’s legal requirements in the bidding process.

The doors won’t open from the outside, deterring residents seeking services. The community groups are forced to leave a side door or a back door open. Attendees at luncheons this summer spent most of their time trying to swat away flies from their meals.

“All I’m asking today is that we see each other as family,” Pastor Darius Crosby of Modesto’s Greater Glory Community Church told the council members. “My family is swatting flies.”

Gladys Williams, president of the Modesto-Stanislaus Branch of the NAACP, said that the bidding process should have been done by now, and it’s unacceptable that the doors won’t be replaced for another two months.

“We should not have to come before you and grovel for everything we need,” Williams told the council members.

George Russell, a member of the center’s board of directors, said city officials have given them the runaround.

“I’d like to know why we’re being ignored,” he told the council.

Russell, a Navy veteran, had complained to the council about his requests to park and recreation officials over several years to fix the flagpole at the center, which is owned and maintained by the city. As the council was looking into fixing the flagpole, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 684 and Collins Electrical Co. volunteered in 2016 to fix it at no cost to the city.

Ron DeLoach is a member of the West Modesto People of Action Council, a group of residents who meet at the center monthly to work on neighborhood improvement efforts. He said they’ve witnessed residents walk away from center after the front doors failed to open.

To serve the neighborhood, he said, the King-Kennedy Memorial Center needs to move up on the city’s priority list. “We don’t want to be last anymore,” DeLoach told the council members.

Modesto Mayor Ted Brandvold thanked the community members for attending the meeting and voicing their concerns.

“I also want to thank you for the swift kick you’ve given us,” Brandvold said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We’re on it.”

The council agreed to add the project to replace the doors to every meeting agenda to get an update until the job is completed.

City officials on Wednesday sent a technician, as promised, to see if there were any repairs to the doors that could be made immediately. There was nothing that could be done to fix the doors Wednesday, said Perfecto Munoz, executive director of West Modesto Community Collaborative.

The collaborative offers free services for residents, including school leadership programs, health clinics, early childhood education and mental health awareness and treatment for families. Munoz and his staff work at the center, and he’s concerned for their safety.

He said the malfunctioning front doors force them to leave a side door open, which allows some transients to enter the building unnoticed through the auditorium and use the restrooms to shower.

“It’s a safety issue,” Munoz said Wednesday. “And if we don’t take care of this, then we’re going to have some other problems in the future.”

Modesto has a $383.5 million operating budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which includes a $129.5 million general fund that makes up a third of the operating budget. The City Council has wide discretion in how it spends general fund dollars.

Thomas Reeves, a Modesto spokesman, said Thursday it’s unclear when city officials were made aware the center’s front doors were beyond repair. But the city a few months ago identified money that spilled over from the 2017-18 budget that could be used to replace the doors this year.

He said the center’s doors is just one of several deferred maintenance jobs that have not been completed, including the replacement of an air conditioning system at the Modesto Police Department and a 20-year-old roof at the Modesto Fire Department Station 1.

‘It’s just all about funding priorities,” Reeves said. “Certainly, we’re not sitting on this.”

On Thursday morning, the city’s purchasing manager and officials from the Parks and Recreation Department met with representatives of four companies who could potentially submit bids for the door replacement job. They met at King-Kennedy Memorial Center, examined the broken doors and took measurements.

Reeves said city officials want to know the feasibility of fast-tracking the bidding and the replacement job itself. He said the bids are now due Sept. 21, and city officials hope the job can be completed a month earlier than expected.