After several delays, officials to break ground on new Pace Center

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ORANGE PARK – After several delays created by the COVID-19 pandemic, a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Pace Center for Girls is scheduled for Friday.

The Pace Center has been a talking point in the goals of both Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings for years. The two congressmen will be at the groundbreaking ceremony, as well as other county leaders, Pace CEO Mary Marx and executive director Destani Shadrick.

“We started working on the legislative requests about a year and a half to two years ago,” Marx said. “We were just getting started on permitting and then COVID-19 happened and that pushed back the timeline.”

Marx said Pace anticipated this groundbreaking to happen in January or February before the pandemic changed the schedule. The pandemic might still be around but that won’t stop Pace from celebrating its groundbreaking, in a socially-distanced manner. After months of anticipation, Marx, Shadrick, Bradley and Cummings are excited to see it come to fruition.

Pace serves girls that are experiencing any number of risk factors. The top three risk factors facing girls in Clay County is poverty, with 96% of Pace’s girls living in the low to extremely low-income level, domestic violence and incarcerated guardians.

“We work with the girls one on one in a holistic way to make sure they have the skills and resources they need to overcome the obstacles before them,” Shadrick said. “We provide them with a full academic day and the support they need to move past barriers.”

This new facility will allow Pace to expand its operations, provide more space for privacy and give the girls and staff some green space. The current Pace center is located on Blanding Boulevard near Tanglewood and it sits in a shopping center so when a girl needs to take a walk, all she can really do is walk in circles around the hot asphalt parking lot. This new space sits on three acres with trees and greenery lining three sides of the center.

“Our girls are extremely excited about what’s to come and we can’t wait for them and our staff to get in the new space,” Shadrick said.

The construction will take months and the ongoing pandemic could change the work schedules once more. But the project will officially get started with the groundbreaking ceremony that begins at 9:30 a.m. on College Drive.

Concerns for the coronavirus forced officials to limit participation to invited attendees. There will be no more than 50 people allowed on Friday, and masks will be provided and recommended, while social distancing will be enforced.

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