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Gateway Center pulls help agencies together

Observant drivers along Sixth Street near Montgomery Avenue may have noticed that the long-abandoned Thriftway parking lot has been filling up.

There’s still a laundromat and the Dollar Store in the old shopping center, but that can’t begin to explain the full parking lot every day. It used to be a paved desert out there.

A cooperative venture between Kitsap Transit and Bremerton’s Holly Ridge Center, a non-profit infant/toddler program and disabled-adult-employment service, got together and spent nearly $1 million to develop the old grocery store into a catch-all center for local public services.

Why would Kitsap Transit want to help Holly Ridge in something having nothing to do with public transit?

Because the huge parking lot acts as a “park-and-ride” pick-up center. Holly Ridge is the over-arching agency for the new so-called “Gateway Center,” and is providing park-and-ride to Kitsap Transit in return for remodeling the old grocery store into a home for:

• Olympic College’s “Families to Work Program,” a literacy program to help disabled or disadvantaged individuals learn the the skills they need to find employment; plus a GED program.

• A Kitsap Library System computer kiosk for ordering books and other library services. Books ordered are delivered the next day.

• Kid City, a child care facility specializing in helping economically troubled families. They’ve only been at their present location in the Enetai Building on Washington Avenue a little over a year.

• “Head Start,” the well-known federal program, locally under the aegis of Kitsap Community Resources, will operate within Kid City.

• Bremerton-Kitsap Health Department will have a nurse outreach office on the premises.

• “WIC,” or Women, Infants and Children, another federal program, will provide certain of its services at the center once a month.

• The 22,000-square-foot facility will include a kitchen for training disabled adults, an indoor “playground” for the kiddies, staff lounge, numerous rooms for caring for infants, toddlers and children up to age 11, offices, conference rooms, and more.

“It’s been a three-year project,” said Roxanne Bryson, executive director of Holly Ridge.

She explained the first two years involved planning, then the two agencies — Holly Ridge and Kitsap Transit — went out out to bid. This took another year to find a contractor and finish the remodeling. It was only recently — in the last month or so — that agencies could start moving in.

OC moved in first, in December, she said. The health department moved in Monday, Feb. 4. Kid City and Head Start will come in at the end of February. The library will move in its kiosk soon.

Currently, Holly Ridge itself has set up temporary headquarters in the center — this due to recent flooding and the washing out of Taylor Road bridge. The bridge was the only access to their main headquarters.

“As soon as the road is fixed — hopefully the end of February — we’re moving back,” said Bryson. Their new temporary phone number at Gateway is 337-4833. Their usual phone number at 5112 N.W. Taylor Road is 373-2536. Holly Ridge has been a presence in Bremerton 35 years.

“We originally wanted 20 agencies (with either branch or full offices here), but this would have cost $1.5 million,” she said, adding that such a figure was beyond the budget.

Kitsap Transit executives couldn’t be reached on details of how the Gateway Center was funded.

Currently, Holy Ridge serves about 330 infants and toddlers and 95 adults. Kid City is serving about 92 children. Certain services are free, other cost a modest sum — depending on funding sources for particular agencies.

Like setting up any new venture, things can be a little chaotic. Those entering the complex may see still-unpacked boxes full of files and desks placed wherever there’s room. The complex is a hive of activity.

But programs are not being adversely affected by the chaos, Bryson emphasized.

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