Lindsay Wellness Center construction delayed 18 months

By C.J. Barbre

In January 2001, former Lindsay Mayor Valeriano Saucedo suggested forming a Health Care Advisory Committee to determine how best to use the vacant Lindsay Hospital Building which had closed in November 2000.

The committee was made up of two members of the Lindsay Hospital District Board, two members of the city council and a school board representative. In April of that year former District 1 Supervisor Bill Sanders suggested that the hospital building be turned into a wellness center, on the order of the LifeStyle Center in Visalia.

A January 2003 banner headline in the former Lindsay Gazette read "Wellness Center is almost a go." The estimated $5 million funding sounded like it was pretty much in place. A Colorado architectural firm had submitted tentative plans on how to restructure the building and add a gymnasium, with plans for a future lap pool and skate park.

In January 2004 EBM Design of Visalia submitted plans for a totally new Wellness Center building on raised ground after the hospital building was razed. The original $5 million price tag had doubled.

In November 2004, the city hired Brad Albert as a consultant and grant writer for the Wellness Center 30 hours a week.

In April 2005 PPS (Project for Public Spaces) strongly cautioned against "big, expensive projects that rely on professionals and experts as being bankrupt from the beginning."

At the April hospital board meeting Lindsay City Manager Scot Townsend said it would probably be another 18 months before ground breaking. And the meter is running.

Brad said the overall cost is now estimated at $15 million, but the first phase is estimated at $8-9 million. "Nobody wants to come first to the dance." He said if USDA comes with $5 million, "I'm very confident the others will come on board."

Townsend had said they were asking the USDA for $10 million or their entire budget nationally. They wanted to borrow from USDA because the interest rate is only 4-4.5% while other sources are higher. Townsend agreed that they could borrow in phases, such as getting $3-$5 million now. "But it's tougher to do piecemeal," he cautioned.

"Part of my job is to move the Wellness Center project forward," Brad said. He said his duties include assisting Townsend and the city in securing more funding. "We've got a lot of different irons in the fire so to speak," Brad said. He said they are working with USDA Rural Development Assistance (loans), CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) grant monies, and the California Department of Parks to "put that funding matrix together." Brad said there was the hospital district funding and they are pursuing the California Endowment Community First Grant in the amount of $200,000.

Townsed had said that the Community First money would be coming in July to further study the project. He said California Endowment could "dump $3-5 million into our project," as a loan but said he had not been able to get any specifics as to when, adding that it could come early next year "maybe."

Brad said, "I see it as a big jigsaw puzzle, and it's just fitting the right pieces in the right places at the right time." He said with several different funding sources and different funding criteria and timelines, it's fairly complex. "The picture will be much clearer in the fall," he said, which didn't sound promising although Brad's countenance includes a sunny smile and bounding enthusiasm.

The 44-year-old Fullerton, Calif. native has been committed to youth and fitness since he graduated Humboldt State University where he majored in physical education. He worked for 11 years for C-SET in Visalia where he was involved as a Youth Corps Education Director and Youth Services Coordinator. "I worked primarily in youth development and also fund development," Brad said. He said this entailed writing grants, overseeing a charter school and he was involved in youth development.

Tulare County Youth Corps serves at-risk young adults ages 18-24. "Our goal was to have them complete their high school education while gaining work experience." Brad said the cost was less than $20,000 per participant and that included paying them a wage while they were gaining work experience. Asked how he felt about the California Youth Authority spending more than $70,000 per inmate annually and having recidivism rates as high as 74%, Brad said, "I think the hard sell has been prevention when it comes to youth. I see a lot of money going into suppression and intervention and I think if some of those funds were directed toward prevention, we would start to solve some of our issues, but that's hard because people like to lock them up. We need to find solutions for these kids and stop pointing fingers at everybody. Money is a motivating factor for everybody, not just kids. And I think, more importantly is the sense of belonging and if we don't fill that need at home or in the community, they're going to find it elsewhere."

Did he attribute these concerns to the large number of gang members? "Belonging to a gang gives that sense of belonging and until we can replace that, it will continue to exist." Brad said he worked with a lot of gangs and gang intervention through C-SET. He said he has also worked with law enforcement and with parents. "These are real issues that need to be addressed. If you could get those people leading the right way instead of the wrong way, that would be what you want. I've known some of these guys and they're very powerful.You find a way to earn their trust and you build upon that."

Brad said that within the Wellness Center they will have youth programs. And there will be educational programs, things like computer labs, libraries, youth center recreation and sports. "Those things I think are real positives in dealing with delinquency." He said another important consideration is having an area and programs in place where families feel welcome, so children and their parents can be together doing various activities. "I think that's real positive," he said.

Another concern about children Brad said is childhood obesity which in Lindsay is at 44.3%, triple the national average. He said interactive video games that are aimed at getting young people active is the future. "Actually I'm working on some grants right now to do some innovative programs in regard to childhood obesity that I think may be cutting-edge, using technology and some of the curriculum that's out there, and I'm real excited." He said the school district, the city and the county were all concerned and hoping for solutions.

Type in "childhood obesity grants" on an Internet search engine and one of the first names that pops up is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, from the Johnson and Johnson people who made all that baby powder to name one product. They now have a lot of money for child health concerns and want to help under-served communities, Brad said,a definition that fits Lindsay well.

He said Bill Gates' Foundation could be another source. "I know they do a lot with computers and technology and I just think with the video culture we have right now that it is good to make [exercise] fun. That's part of my goal with Lindsay, to make it an active community, to make it a walkable community. You've got to look at nutrition. You've got to look at exercise. You've got to look at things like stress reduction, the holistic approach."

Brad said he wants to see these things become a part of Lindsay's culture, "things like walking clubs where people get together in the morning and evening and socialize and make it a pleasurable experience." He said he didn't know the community well enough to say if this walking would be done on the sidewalks, on a track or in the park or all three. "You don't have to define it too much as long as you're up and moving."

One of the things the Walter Wood Johnson Foundation asked was what is the cause of these problems. He responded that with today's youngsters, who are being raised on television, video games and computers, the answer is to artificially create chopping wood and hauling hay or whatever technology could offer that is entertaining and could get kids active. "We've got to create activity and invent activity our own selves." He agreed that workout videos get very boring.

"I think one of the things is varying your exercise with different everything." He said it could be varied with cardiovascular exercise, strength training, maybe taking nutritional classes, study kick boxing. "There's salsa dancing, lot's of things to connect to. It's just a matter of access. That's our plan, to combine a lot of activities that make it a real broad base to the community."

Brad Albert had been married to Mary Cay for 19 years. The couple has two children, 18-year-old Christopher and 13-year-old Mary Anne. Welcome aboard Brad Albert!

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