Renovations underway for Central Florida’s GLBT Center

By : Samantha Rosenthal
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Orlando | After a long wait, The Center on Mills Avenue began renovations this week that were made possible by the City of Orlando’s Community Development Block Grant program, with the project expected to be finished by the end of August.

“We are very, very excited,” Center’s Executive Director Terry DeCarlo said. “After a long drawn-out process and a lot of permits and a lot of annoying back-and-forth with the City, we are finally starting renovations on the brand-new Center for Central Florida.”

The Center received the final approval needed back in December 2014 from the City of Orlando to receive almost $150,000 in funds to go toward renovations for The Center. DeCarlo said that since it was federal money that there was a lot more paperwork than he originally expected. He told Watermark back in December 2014 that the renovations would start in February and be finished by the end of March.

Soil & Water Conservation Supervisor 4 Eric Rollings, who was appointed by Commissioner Patty Sheehan for the third year to the Community Block Development Grant Program (CBDG) board, was the person who suggested to Commissioner Sheehan that The Center should be considered for the grant money.

“Commissioner Sheehan appointed me to this board so I could find places in her district that would qualify to help low-to-middle income persons, and I identified The Center,” Rollings said.

Rollings explained that the CBDG has two different programs in which it gives money to local organizations and businesses: one for services and one for capital improvement. Orlando roughly receives $2 million a year from this grant program. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the program was started in 1974 and is one of the longest continuously run programs at Housing and Urban Development.

DeCarlo said that they awarded Window World the contract to redo all the windows at The Center and will begin on that project by the week of June 29. They also awarded a contract to Tanenbaum Roofing, Inc., which will be tearing the old roof off and putting the new roof on after the windows are repaired.

After both the windows and roofing have been replaced, DeCarlo said the outside will sandblasted, speckled and then painted. The interior is also having a makeover, which has already begun, and will be all brand-new.

“Where we used to have one HIV testing room, because the The Center is one of the largest testing centers in the state of Florida, we’re doing over 500 tests a month, I had people waiting quite a while — sometime upwards to 45 minutes to an hour — to get their tests or tests results because there were so many people waiting and getting tested,” DeCarlo said. “What we’ve done is expanded that to include three testing rooms, so we will also have three testing rooms running at any time which will also handle our hep C testing.”

The Center is the only place that provides rapid Hepatitis C testing seven days a week, and DeCarlo said The Center plans to go full-panel STI testing within the next month. A doctor’s waiting room, equipped with comfortable seating and televisions, will be created toward the back of The Center so that people don’t have to wait in the lobby to get tested or wait for their test results.

He also added that a cyber center with 10 stations is going to be added to The Center, where they will offer GED classes as well as computer classes. More meeting space is included in the renovations so that The Center itself can handle more groups.

“We are so overwhelmed with the amount of groups that come here to The Center, and the amount of people that come here, that we were running out of space,” DeCarlo explained. “We added more meeting rooms and actually taken the executive offices and moved them to the second floor so the first floor can be complete space where we can serve the community.”

Since December 2014, when the funds and renovation plans were finalized, The Center moved its staff out and into a place they also own next door in a strip mall. And even though The Center is empty, the staff and all its services are still provided seven days a week. DeCarlo said he figured makes it easier for the construction crews to work without having anyone in their way.

“We were so cramped before. I wanted to be able to offer more services to seniors and the kids, and I didn’t have the space for that because we had so many groups in there — now I will have the space for that,” DeCarlo said. “That to me is really, really exciting. Most exciting for me is to offer the GED [classes] and stuff like that, not only to the kids but to the seniors. A lot of the seniors never got their high school diplomas, and stuff like that is really exciting to me.”

And all these new and exciting changes came at a time where the management of The Center was experiencing new and exciting changes with DeCarlo assuming the executive director position since October 2014. He announced he would be leaving the Broward House in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. to join The Center as its executive director in September 2014, and he said it has been a whirlwind, with all the other changes taking place, since.

“It’s been rough. Like I’ve said to people, ‘I had some hair when I started — I don’t now,’” DeCarlo joked. “It’s been rather crazy. Anybody who knows me, I’ve been in non-for profit for almost 30 years, knows that I’m totally committed to what I do. When I put my mind to it, I go after the prize. It might be hard getting there but we shoot for the highest we can and I’m up for the task. I love a challenge and this is definitely challenge, but I’ll only grow and learn more while it’s happening.”

He said that he hopes the renovations will attract more people — people who need their services, direction, counseling and other help. He also plans to focus more, after the renovations on The Center’s HIV prevention campaign.

“We are one of the highest rates of new infections of HIV right here in Orlando. I’m hoping by expanding our HIV [testing] to full STI we’ll be able to help lessen the number of HIV infections by getting more of a prevention campaign out to the public — that’s really, really important to me,” DeCarlo said. “We’re not doing a good job right now with our prevention campaign, and hopefully when we get The Center up and running I’ll be able to focus more and put our staff on our prevention campaign and get the word out their to our community.”

The Center plans on having a grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony once renovations are done and they receive the OK from the City to open the location back up. They have already let Mayor Buddy Dyer and the city council know, and they have said they’d be happy to come over and cut the ribbon when the new Center opens. The Orlando Gay Chorus has also expressed interest in being a part of any celebrations for the opening on the all-new Center. DeCarlo guarantees it’s “going to be a big blow-out celebration once we’re able to cut that ribbon.”

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