Known for innovating, some Kroc Centers are renovating

Apr 11, 2019 | by Brad Rowland

Known for innovating, some Kroc Centers are renovating

By: David Ibata

The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Centers across the Southern Territory have been open five to 10 years. So now that everyone knows what a Kroc Center is – and how it best serves its particular community – it's time for some to take hammer and paint brush and freshen things up.

"When the Kroc Centers were being developed, it was all speculation what would be good programming, and what each location's citizens would want," said Steven Carpenter, territorial Kroc operations director. "Now that they've been open for a while, one can easily determine if people are really using the space for what it was intended. If programs are doing well, how can we expand them?"

Or if some space isn't working out, how can it be re-purposed?

"We thought it would be a good idea to have full service cafés" Carpenter said. "What we found was that there's a very slim margin of error allowed in the restaurant industry."

Put another way – the cafes were losing money.

"The four pillars of a Kroc Center are arts, education, recreation and worship. Cafes are not a critical part of that mission. Five of our Kroc Centers have stopped doing cafes and are reimagining what those areas might be."

Technology also drives change.

"We're developing and implementing new membership software that has the ability to use iPads and mobile devices," Carpenter said. "That frees up having to have everything at a stationary unit or desk for people checking in or signing up for things."

Here's how Kroc Centers in Augusta, Georgia; Memphis, Tennessee; and Kerrville, Texas, are responding to changing times.

Cafe too costly to operate? Time to change the menu

The Café on the Canal in Augusta, popular though it was with the general public, "was not a sustainable model for the Kroc Center," said Captain Philip Canning, Augusta area commander.

The café closed in April 2018. A company that services the center's vending machines, A&A Vending, suggested a concept it had introduced to employee break rooms and corporate dining rooms: The Micro Market.

"They're small cafes with prepared food and snack items and drinks, with fresh salads and freshly made sandwiches that individuals can purchase," Captain Canning said. "Nobody mans the store. It's all self-serve. You go to a kiosk, scan an item's bar code, and create your own account or pay directly."

The Micro Market opened last fall and is one of the first things you see when you enter the building. It takes up about 15 feet of wall space. Upgrades were minimal: more electrical outlets, 220-volt service, a water line for a coffee and hot cocoa machine, and some tables and chairs borrowed from the banquet hall to seat 16 people.

Yes, there have been instances where people walked off without paying. That's why the Micro Market has security cameras. And at a Kroc Center, everybody knows everyone.

"Shrinkage has been smaller than any of us imagined," Captain Canning said. "We're pretty pleased, and so is the vendor. … It's a win-win situation. We have a food option for people coming into the Kroc Center, and we're making money instead of losing money."

Meanwhile, exciting things are happening in Augusta. The U.S. Department of Defense is moving the U.S. Army Cyber Command to Fort Gordon, and affiliated high-tech firms are relocating to the area.

The Kroc Center is on the Augusta Canal, across from two textile mills dating to the late 19th century and closed since the 1990s. They're notable for the historic chimney of a Civil War-era powder works that once stood on the site. One mill is being turned into a cyber community with more than 100,000 square feet of corporate offices. The other is being turned into a mixed-use, live-work-play development with residences, retailing and restaurants.

"We're expecting an influx of several thousand workers on a daily basis, and the Kroc Center is the closest thing to them," Captain Canning said. "That will offer opportunities for us to form partnerships with them to use our facilities, generate additional revenues and help us to fulfill our mission."

Possibly the next big capital project: A footbridge to make it more convenient to cross the canal from the mills to the Kroc. That's likely to be a public investment by the city or county. "We have seen the schematics for it … but it's kind of last priority right now," Captain Canning said.

Reallocating space better serves families and children

The Kroc Center in Memphis is spending $250,000 on the first and second levels of its AutoZone Challenge Center to better accommodate children and family programs, while also updating its front desk space, known as the Welcome Center. "This is totally in response to community demand," said Cleo Griffin, executive director.

The AutoZone Center, sponsored by its namesake auto parts firm, will become the hub of the Child Reach after-school program for youth 10 to 17 years – a much-appreciated service, as there are two schools next door. It also will house Child Watch, a drop-in benefit for members with kids three months to nine years old; children can stay up to two hours a day in a safe, supervised setting while Mom or Dad work out.

"What's different about our Kroc Center is our worship department is over these operational areas, so they're also home to summer camp and Bible Study camp," Griffin said. There are 180 youngsters in the after-school program, 50 to 60 children per shift in Child Watch, and 600 to 700 day campers per session in the summer.

"We're re-purposing the space to make more room for our worship, after-school and youth programming," Griffin said. "There's been demand for more square footage for these programs really since we opened. We've finally put ourselves in a position where we can make an investment into reallocating space to give these programs the square footage they need to continue to grow."

Child Watch check-in and services will be on the first floor of the Challenge Center; and Kroc Reach check-in and services, on the second floor. (The third floor of the Challenge Center remains an adult work-out area with cardio and group training stations for extended fitness programs.) The Welcome Center, meanwhile, will be redone with multiple transaction stations, including two self-service kiosks.

"We're getting new furniture and basically trying to create an area that's more comfortable, and that gives members and potential members more transactional options … where people can sign up for memberships, swim lessons, or camp or youth basketball or soccer leagues," Griffin said.

Playing to your strengths: Water park gets new slide

The outdoor water park has always been one of the more popular features of the Kroc Center in Kerrville. It offers two heated pools, a shallow water park play area for young children, and for older swimmers, high tower water slides – the original open slide, and a new, even larger, enclosed one.

"After eight years, our community has seen a lot of what we've done, and it was time to give them something new," said Molly Putman, director of operations for the Kerrville Kroc. "It was time to update our outdoor aquatic park."

The new slide is a bright blue and neon green, stands 19½ feet tall and 97½ feet long, and has water flowing inside at a rate of 300 to 500 gallons of water a minute. Space had been reserved for a second slide since the water park was built, and plumbing was already in place.

It was part of some $180,000 in capital upgrades completed last year. The original water slide was resurfaced and repainted from red to blue. Two giant ceiling fans, 12 feet in diameter, were installed in the fitness center to improve air circulation and reduce summer cooling costs.

Also, The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club at the Kroc got a permanent sign-in space. "Before, they had a table in the hallway," Putnam said. "We cut a hole in an existing wall and created an enclosed front desk in a former coat closet."

Additionally, Kerrville updated its audio-visual systems with new digital projectors, screens and flat-panel televisions. Putnam said, "We're seeing some increase in rental revenues because we're able to meet the needs of presenters and groups coming in. We can now accommodate HDMI and Mac computers, which we had trouble accommodating before; technology has changed over the years."

A Lowe's home improvement center provided a grant to help pay for materials, and 15 of its employees donated their labor to build the Boys & Girls Club desk, picnic tables and backpack racks. Bilbro Systems, an A/V contractor, installed the new audio-visual gear at no cost to the Kroc Center.

All this work is with an eye toward the Kroc Centers' ultimate mission.

Carpenter said, "With The Salvation Army, what's most important is that the types of programs offered attract people so you can implement The Salvation Army's mission of WHY: to present the gospel of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible."

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