Welcome return of Merrill Center

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Active efforts to improve challenged neighborhoods critical to Beloit's future.

LAST WEEK IT WAS announced that Community Action Inc. of Rock and Walworth counties had finalized purchase of the former Merrill Community Center, located at 1428 Wisconsin Ave.

That's good news.

For many years the Merrill Center provided critical services to at-risk populations in a challenged neighborhood. Its closing, when a proposed merger with the YMCA collapsed, was a blow to all the people who depended on the center. Community Action vows to return similar services to the center as quickly as possible, and that effort deserves strong support all across Beloit. Organizers were helped by United Way, and hope to receive grants to assist with programming. We believe it's a good place to put money.

HERE'S THE TRUTH. Beloit has more than its share of challenged and at-risk individuals and families, including children. Statistics bear it out. Beloit lags behind in a number of important categories, from housing values to average educational attainment to household income. Looking the other way won't fix anything. Action is required.

For residents who may be doing just fine and believe they don't have a dog in this fight, think again.

Challenged populations affect more than just their block or their neighborhood. They bring deep remedial issues into the public schools. They keep income statistics low and make it harder to lure retail development, which depends on disposable income. The housing market is impacted because families choose to live elsewhere. The list could go on, but readers get the point.

Improving the community is more than just newer and prettier buildings in the core. Lifting the population is the step that will determine long-term success or failure. Revival of the Merrill Center is a step in the right direction. Let's hope it is followed by more.

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