Last updated: February 19. 2013 7:55PM - 528 Views

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HAZLETON -- Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon returned to his hometown Hazleton Friday afternoon to announce the purchase of the former Most Precious Blood School building for a community center.

The purchase was made by the Hazleton Integration Project, a nonprofit he created to develop free or low-cost educational, cultural and athletic activities for the city's low-income youth.

The facility at the corner of Seybert and Fourth streets will be called The Hazleton One Community Center.

Maddon said Hazleton was the best place in the world to grow up, with a close-knit atmosphere and bounty of activities for youth.

That's really gone away, he said.

He envisions the building buzzing with cooking classes, plays and athletic events. Maddon said he looks forward to the day when young boxers are engaged in a match in the center of the gym floor.

Though further fundraising will be necessary to renovate the school, Maddon said it will provide a safe place for children after school while their parents are working.

He predicted the facility would become a standard for other areas. I want it to be for the kids the best place to grow up again, he said of the city.

State Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, said $200,000 in government funding has been allocated to the project.

The project falls in line with efforts of Yudichak and others to combat gang activity, he said.

Yudichak praised Maddon for going out of his way to welcome new families, including the city's rising Latino population.

You don't see that often enough in life, Yudichak said.

Numerous municipal, school, state and community leaders attended the announcement along with Luzerne County Council members Tim McGinley and Elaine Maddon Curry.

Maddon Curry's husband, Bob, is president of the Hazleton Integration Project board and told the audience the building will provide healthy activities and unite residents for a stronger community.

What's next

The Hazleton Integration Project board will hold a fundraising dinner at Genetti's Best Western in Hazle Township Dec. 14 at 6 p.m., followed by an auction of sports memorabilia. Contact Bob Curry at bobbycurry@hotmail.com for more information.

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