Organizers of a planned community center and skateboard park in Crofton are pressing ahead with fundraising after receiving preliminary approval from the Anne Arundel County Council, which includes submitting detailed construction and operating plans and raising $2.5 million in each of the next three years to build the project.

The County Council approved the plan, which was forged between County Executive John R. Leopold and the Crofton Regional Community Center, which gives the community group a $1 annual lease for 4 acres near the Crofton library to build a $7 million community center and a skateboard park.

The council, though, in approving the lease, has required organizers to submit estimated costs before receiving final permission for construction. The council also requires organizers to raise about $8 million - or $2.5 million in each of the next three years - and if the group fails to meet the $2.5 million goal for two consecutive years, the county may revoke the lease.

Council Chairwoman Cathy Vitale said the community center is a worthy cause, but it's the council's responsibility to ensure the project proceeds responsibly.

"We want them to succeed," Vitale said.

The council's concerns stemmed from a government report earlier this year that cited a lack of planning and a lease that could leave the county responsible for construction and operating costs.

"They don't want us building anything, until we have sufficient funding," said Art Huseonica, vice president of the community center's executive committee. "It would be silly to even try to do that. We wouldn't do that anyways. They're very supportive and I appreciate the leadership that Cathy Vitale demonstrated. They want to ensure our success. We were very receptive to any of their suggestions because we want to be successful, too."

Community leaders have pushed for a community center in Crofton for decades. The plan came together this past summer after Christopher Jones, a 14-year-old Crofton boy, was killed in a confrontation with other teenagers alleged to have been involved in neighborhood gangs.

A 16-year-old has been charged as an adult with manslaughter and a 14-year-old has been charged with manslaughter in connection with the attack.

Christopher's death reinvigorated the plans for a community center for the area's youths.

Janet Greenip, the recently retired state senator from Crofton who has long pushed for a community center, serves as chairwoman of the center's executive committee.

The group held its first fundraiser last week - a donors' reception at Essex Bank in Crofton. Huseonica said the event was well-attended, though he said he was not sure how much money in donations the event generated.

While Huseonica said "it's too early to tell" whether the poor economy would hurt fundraising, he said he hoped to receive in-kind services from construction companies.

The group has a five-year timeline for a groundbreaking on the project. Huseonica said the group wants to raise at least $10 million by 2014, to "allow us to start construction and pay some operating fees."

The group estimates that the construction will cost between $7 million and $8 million, and the center and skate park will cost about $500,000 annually to operate.

Steve Grimaud, president of the Crofton Civic Association and a member of the committee, has said he hopes some of the center's operating costs could be funded through private donations and the rest through fees.

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