Nevada County and the Nevada County Fairgrounds are poised to forge a partnership that would see the fairgrounds’ Main Street Center serve as a free Distance Learning Center and Youth Hub.
At its Tuesday meeting, county supervisors approved spending up to $450,000 to lease the fairgrounds’ 12,000-square-foot exhibition hall through Dec. 31. The agreement is expected to be finalized by Thursday. Services for youth and families could begin the following week. Funding will consist of $200,000 from the county’s $10 million coronavirus relief federal fund and $250,000 from the general fund.
“It will serve as a youth hub for distance learning and enrichment programs administered by the Friendship Club and NEO,” said Nevada County Fairgrounds CEO Patrick Eidman, who, along with seven of eight full-time fairgrounds staff members, has voluntarily taken a 40% salary cut since the pandemic began and the fairgrounds were closed. “It will also help ensure the fairgrounds will survive, which is difficult without revenue.”
The center will serve multiple school districts, including Nevada Joint Union High School District students who opt out of its hybrid model.
Services at the Youth Hub will be offered free of charge. Details are being worked out regarding hours of operation and whether parents must pre-sign up their students. Parents with preschool-aged children will be welcome to remain at the hub with their kids. Students of an age yet to be determined will be welcome without parental supervision.
Staff supervision at the Youth Hub will be provided by The Friendship Club and NEO (New Events & Opportunities), two nonprofits merging to form a new nonprofit called Bright Futures for Youth.
“A temporary Youth Hub helps children connect to services they may need for distance learning, from high-speed internet access to a safe and supervised study environment,” said Friendship Club Executive Director Jennifer Singer. “So many local families have little or no internet access, and some have multiple children.
“And the fact this will be supervised is a big deal. There are other youth hubs, but they don’t offer supervision,” she added.
The internet infrastructure at the fairgrounds must be improved and its capacity boosted so the Youth Hub can accommodate as many students as possible until school campuses reopen.
“This is a great opportunity for our community partners to join together and address the need of internet inequity for students in a safe place in a central location,” Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Scott Lay said. “The county’s IT people and fairgrounds staff are working to increase the bandwidth, so we don’t yet know if the facility will be able to handle 50 or 100 computers.
“We envision the space as a ‘Bring Your Own Device’ program, since students have school-issued Chromebooks. We may set up desks with socially distant space between them. We’re working with the county health department on those types of safety protocols.”
Georgette Aronow, senior management analyst in the county’s CEO office, said the county is pleased to provide a financial bridge between partners that all share the goal of ensuring students are successful with distance learning. Aronow said the lease agreement with the fairgrounds offers other benefits.
“The lease agreement allows the fairgrounds to open for limited recreation use during the week, for people who want to bike or walk the grounds,” said Aronow.
Superintendent of Schools Scott Lay said the plan presents many opportunities.
“We’re looking into whether staff from our schools might be available to assist, and whether we can provide lunches or snacks,” said Lay. “We’re going to open it and build it as we move along.
“We’ll start it and needs will become apparent,” he added.
Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County.