Organizers hope back-to-school bash kicks off efforts to restore S.L. Finley

CHESTER -- Fish sandwiches and

T-shirts alone won't save the S.L. Finley Center.

But city and community leaders say fundraising events such as Saturday's "Saving Finley Back to School Bash" are a start.

The event, which will last from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the parking lot of the Finley Center, offers families a chance to play outdoor volleyball and basketball, among other activities.

A DJ will play music, and free hot dogs and drinks will be offered. Free school supplies also will be available.

"It's a big neighborhood cookout," said recreation director Jack Sink. "Just a good old-fashioned street party."

"Saving Finley" T-shirts, fish sandwiches and raffle tickets will be sold to make money to help pay for the restoration of the Finley Center, the East Chester landmark that the City Council closed in June because of concerns about mold.

The latest environmental test report indicates that "there should be no activity in the Finley building except by essential personnel." The report also said employees who do enter the building for an extended time should wear protective masks if they are allergic to certain types of mold.

Once the city's all-black high school, the center offered young people a place to play indoor basketball without a charge and was occasionally rented out for private parties. Nearly 40 people also paid for memberships that allowed them to use the gym and workout area.

The city is getting estimates for cleaning the building.

Although city and community leaders know the event won't generate the money needed to restore Finley, they hope Saturday will be the first of other fundraising events.

"If it's anything at all, it's a help," said Councilman Odell Williams, a Finley alumnus.

In order to fix the building, Williams said people will have to step up financially.

"You can do a lot of talking, but it's going to take money to fix it," he said.

Margaret Foote knows that, too.

The president of the S.L. Finley Prom Committee, she started the group in February 2006 with the goal of restoring the roughly 50-year-old building.

"It means the world to me," she said of the center. "And I think everyone who attended Finley feels the same way."

Those who care about Finley were "more disappointed than angry" about the closing, she said.

But the locked doors served as a wake-up call to the community that it needs to fix the building.

When asked if she hoped other fundraising events followed Saturday, Foote was frank.

"I would hope so," she said. "I really hope so."

Charles D. Perry • 329-4068