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Century, Jay community centers get millions in grants

Two towns in northern Escambia and Santa Rosa counties will share part of $23.1 million in state funds coming to Northwest Florida communities through two programs.

Century is slated to receive $3.2 million in Community Development Block Grant money. Mayor Benjamin Boutwell says he got the surprising word to join Gov. Ron DeSantis for a check presentation at Indian Pass, near Port St. Joe.

“I dropped everything and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah.’ I was thinking for some reason it was our water meters that we put in for the appropriations,” said Boutwell. “We totally forgot about the CDBG coronavirus grant that we applied for last year.”

Century is seeking about $1.3 million to replace all of the existing water meters, moving to a radio reporting system.

The block grant money will pay for work on the Carver Community Center and Town of Century Community Center to better accommodate residents and increase public health compliance in a community that has seen its share of financial crises over the years.

“[There’s a] big ol’ grin on my face,” he said. “I’m just tickled about the town of Century and our community centers. It’s going to be huge for our children and after-school programs and summer programs, and just having these buildings upgraded to code. New materials, new kitchens — it’s just going to be massive for us.”

The one string attached, says Boutwell, is that the block grant money can only be spent on the two community centers.

“Two million of it is assigned to the Carver Community Center, which is historic; so it’s going to be brought to historic code,” Boutwell said. “And then we have the other community center, which we call our ag building, which is over at the industrial park. New roof on it, new floor, bathrooms upgraded, kitchen upgraded [and] HVAC.”

Once the work is complete, the mayor plans to reach out to various groups, such as the local Boys and Girls Club.

“Something of that idea is in my head, so we can have something really nice up here on the north end [of Escambia], for the children after-school programs,” he said. “Any nonprofits that can come in and can use some space — that would be fantastic. That would be able to help our citizens.”

Boutwell hopes that a pair of specially upgraded community centers can lure new businesses and industries to north Escambia County.

“There is growth already happening in the town of Century over the years; we’ve got new restaurants coming in, lots are being bought up,” said Boutwell. “The old Burger King’s been bought — not sure what’s coming in. We’ve got the old gas station that’s been run down for 20 to 25 years and now it’s been purchased. We’re seeing the growth coming, and we’re getting prepared for it.”

Jay, in northern Santa Rosa County, is set to receive about $1.4 million from the Rural Infrastructure Fund and Community Development Block Grant programs to renovate the Bray-Hendricks Sports Complex, and to rehab the town’s Community Center to enhance safety and public health compliance.