Sara Holbrook Community Center breaks ground on expansion

Published: Jun. 4, 2019 at 6:09 PM EDT
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A Burlington nonprofit that helps new Americans is expanding after five years of planning. Organizers Tuesday celebrated the groundbreaking for the Sara Holbrook Community Center.

In the Old North End of Burlington, the Sara Holbrook Community Center is getting a serious makeover. "I think there is a lot of work to be done and I think we're up for the challenge," said Leisa Pollander, who has run the nonprofit for 20 years.

The center, which was built in 1965,has outgrown its space. The mission is to assist families with limited financial means. It was started by University of Vermont professor Sara Holbrook in 1937 to help out mainly the French-Canadians and Italians adjust to their new communities. Now, 65 percent are new Americans from countries like Burma and Africa. The center serves over 1,300 individuals annually.

"On the far side of that, in the corner, there will be a gym space," Pollander pointed out. The new addition will nearly triple the size of the building to 12,000 thousand square-feet. "This expansion will allow us to take our part-day, pre-k to full day, full year. We will be able to add a toddler program serving eight kids, full-day full-year."

But the project has ballooned in cost, partly because of asbestos removal and contaminated soil. "We have quietly raised $3.3 million and now we need another million," Pollander said.

"I can't tell you all the different programs they have for kids," said Frank Donath, who along with his wife, Ducky, are major benefactors to the cause.

The property severely lacked the space to expand. A friend of Pollander's left money to buy one of two properties a neighbor wanted to sell. Next, Pollander relayed the message to the Donath's. "And I thought about it a little bit, and so Ducky and I bought the house next door and turned it over to Sara Holbrook," Donath said.

With the two homes gone now, construction crews are working outside on the expansion. During construction the center's home has been at the Saint Mark's Church facility in the New North End. Pollander says they want to go back to the Old North End for a very good reason. "This is home in The Old North End," she said.

They hope to be in their new home by this time next year.