Nearly 30 years after the idea was first proposed, city and community leaders, politicians and educators broke ground Friday morning on the El Rio Community Gym.
"It's a day of celebration for the young people of El Rio," said Yolanda Benitez, superintendent of the Rio Elementary School District.
Politicians from throughout the county, including Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), state Sen. Jack O'Connell (D-San Luis Obispo) and county supervisors Judy Mikels, John Flynn and Frank Schillo, attended the ceremony at the grounds of Rio del Valle Middle School, where the facility will be built.
The gym, which officials expect to open by the end of October, will be on Rose Avenue and will house a medical clinic, a community room and a Ventura County Sheriff's Department storefront. Sheriff Bob Brooks said he hopes to start a Police Activities League for young people in El Rio.
"El Rio is another pocket in the county where the kids need something to do," Brooks said. "If they don't have anything to do, and they don't have pride in their community, eventually it causes problems for us."
The $3.7-million project is being funded by money from the 1997 school bond measure and by contributions from the county, the state and the Sheriff's Department.
Ernest Almanza, who grew up in El Rio and has been a school board member for three decades, remembers playing basketball on the dirt at his old elementary school. When it rained, they shot hoops in the mud. When it got dark, the game ended.
"That was the way it was back then," he said. "But I didn't want my kids, all the kids in El Rio, to go through what we went through. This has been a lifelong dream."