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Fire at St. Paul community center may have been started intentionally

The blaze was reported in the early hours of Sunday morning.

An early morning fire at a community center on St. Paul's East Side may have been started intentionally.

The blaze at the Conway Community Center was first reported around 3:30 a.m. Sunday, according to the St. Paul Fire Department. The fire was in the exterior entry, and firefighters "quickly extinguished" it before it moved inside.

The Sanneh Foundation, which manages and operates the rec center on behalf of the city, said in a fundraising update that the building was empty a the time, and nobody suffered physical injuries. The west entrance and nearby interior have "moderate structural damage" however, and will be closed temporarily.

Tony Sanneh, founder and CEO of the Sanneh Foundation, said they hope to get their normal family services and youth programs up and running "as soon as possible."

"We are absolutely committed to continuing our mission to provide programs, opportunities and environments that empower youth and improve community well-being without pause, and look forward to when the building is safe to reopen," he said.

The St. Paul Fire Department, with assistance from the city's police department, said the cause of the fire is suspected to be arson.

The nonprofit has put up an online fire recovery fund, and as of Tuesday morning had brought in more than $32,000. 

Conway Community Center provides free programs for kids where they can spend time while not in school. Staff at the center speak more than 18 languages, and each year, they serve more than 30,000 free meals to people, according to the center's website. During the pandemic, the gym was turned into a distance learning center, and operations shifted toward emergency food relief.

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