When it rains, water seeps through cracks around a window, drips down the wall and onto the floor, which is sagging and rotting.

The old, rickety, one-room modular unit was donated by the City of Manassas in the late 1980s to serve as the Georgetown South community center. It sits off Taney Road, in the heart of the Manassas neighborhood.

"You can push on [the floor] with your foot and it's soft," said Candice Savannah, 55, a community leader. "It's not a prideful building. It's a trailer."

Organizers hope to build a new, $900,000, 8,000-square-foot community center by February 2004.

The facility, which would be at Wellington Road and Grant Avenue, would house a police substation, an Early Head Start childhood development center, an adult probation and parole office, a recreation room, a clinic and classrooms. Organizers see the center offering English as a Second Language classes, health education, teen mentoring and pregnancy prevention services.

Last month, the project got a major boost when the federal Department of Health and Human Services' Early Head Start program awarded a $550,000 grant to build, staff and equip the childhood development center as part of the larger project.

Northern Virginia Family Service, a nonprofit agency based in Falls Church, will operate the childhood development center for as many as 32 children.

The group will co-own the facility with the Georgetown South Community Council, a homeowners association.

Hannah Senft, president of the council, said she hopes to raise $500,000 more from local businesses, philanthropists, foundations and the City of Manassas.

Construction will not begin until the funds have been raised, said Julie Shuell, the Northern Virginia Family Service's deputy director for Early Head Start.

Senft said that the family service approached her with the idea of a partnership several years ago.

"Funding has been one of the main issues," Senft said. "What makes this more attractive now is that we have a partner paying for half."

The community center project reflects a larger trend, said Lorene Payne, Manassas's zoning administrator.

Payne, who began working closely with the neighborhood in the 1980s, said she sees the center as a natural outgrowth of the turnaround that the community has worked so hard to make.

"I think it's just the evolution of a community pulling itself out of a depressed state and becoming a marketable, viable, welcoming place to live," she said.

In the 1980s, Georgetown South developed a reputation as a blighted neighborhood, Payne said. Homes were visibly in need of repair, and open-air drug markets were a part of daily life.

The city took notice.

In 1991, the neighborhood got its own police substation with two full-time officers.

In 1995, residents started a Neighborhood Watch program.

The percentage of owner-occupied homes has risen steadily in recent years, city records show.

"We really crossed a threshold, and the community is now on the upswing," Payne said. "And this community center is really a classic display of how this community has come into its own. This is something that most homeowners associations wouldn't undertake, and this is completely a citizen-run effort."

Former community council president Mike Carbin said the center would be a safe haven for children after school and on weekends. He sees it as a gathering spot for family reunions, birthday parties and other activities.

"The different services would give people another avenue to have access to benefits that people in other neighborhoods enjoy," Carbin said.

Marianne White, an active Neighborhood Watch volunteer, said she hoped that ESL classes in the new community center would help encourage participation from Georgetown South's large Hispanic community.

White said that many young Hispanic mothers rely on their children to communicate. Currently, one ESL class a week is offered by BEACON, a charity-run literacy and adult education program, in the upstairs bedroom of a neighborhood townhouse.

"If they had a better place to read and study and they could put the children in the rec room, I think it would attract more people," White said.

Manassas City Council member Ulysses X. White (R) has worked with the community since the 1980s. He remembers residents' initial reaction to the trailer.

"It was a godsend," White said. "They loved it, and now they've outgrown that. Now they're saying this is what they want to do, and they will do it. And the entire City of Manassas is in their corner on this."

Hannah Senft, president of the Georgetown South Community Council, visits the rickety, one-room community center.Hannah Senft of the Georgetown South Community Council hopes to build a new community center by February 2004.