Story by Ammie Bryant
A year and half ago the Stillwater Community Center was in danger from the wrecking ball as the City sought answers for what to do with Block 34 and how best to incorporate the area surrounding it. User groups and other interested community members banded together to save the Community Center and in doing so, realized there was an additional need for community investment in the Center’s future.
The Friends of the Stillwater Community Center Inc. officially formed with a mission “to ensure the accessibility and affordability of the Stillwater Community Center for use by the citizens of Stillwater and surrounding area.”
Last summer volunteers began the process of getting to know the building and its needs with a tour of the facility and created a wish list. After consulting with city staff, the list was refined into Top 10 Projects that would help improve the Center and make it more accessible and affordable for everyone.
Project 1 on that list were repairs and improvements in the old school cafeteria that serves as the home for Project Heart, which was the the Community Center’s first occupant back in 1991. Project Heart serves Stillwater senior citizens nutritious meals five days a week. The space remained mostly unused after 1 p.m. on weekdays and weekends because the layout was not user friendly, flexible, or attractive for other types of events.
The SCC Friends met with City of Stillwater representatives to discuss a private-public partnership for what they had dubbed “Project 1.” Both agreed that work needed to be done and that the best way to accomplish it was to split the costs in order to make it happen sooner rather than later. The City would cover half of the repairs and improvements required and the Friends would cover the other half of the costs plus a few additional upgrades like a 75 inch television and replacement of one tired refrigerator with two refrigerator/freezers. The SCC Friends also added a microwave and cabinets with countertop which virtually doubles the serving area in the room. The SCC Foundation and the SCC Friends were responsible for selecting and employing contractors to complete the work which was subject to inspection by the City to ensure that the work was performed in compliance with codes.
Once complete, the City agreed to reimburse the SCC Foundation for one half of the improvement costs. The reimbursement will be made from gross revenues received from rental fees charged for the space, now officially known as the Dining and Event Hall (with the exception of Project Heart). The City will make these payments quarterly until reimbursement for one-half of the total costs of the improvements are complete.
This unique private-public partnership serves as a test run for future improvements that the SCC Friends plan to complete. Because the reimbursement funds will come from new revenue made possible by the improvements that make the space more appealing to potential renters, it does not require the City to find additional money in its existing budget and revenue streams.
Some of the repairs and improvements made in the space included purchasing new lightweight, durable tables and chairs. The exterior entry, interior dining area, restrooms, kitchen doors, frames, and walls were painted. New restaurant-grade wall coverings were installed in the kitchen and serving areas. Other improvements included replacing ceiling air diffusers and ceiling tiles, updating worn laminate facades, upgrading restrooms to improve usability and accessibility, updating the fire alarm system, upgrading the air conditioner condensate system to address leaks and drainage problems, repairing a leaking water line, replacing all lighting fixtures and adding dimmable LED lighting to reduce energy consumption and improve aesthetics, and adding art strips for efficient and attractive rotation of art displays while protecting the walls from damage.
Jim Beckstrom and Larry Stein coordinated and managed the project. Friends of SCC President Nancy Beckstrom said, “Notable to me is that once the Friends had the go-ahead from the City, the entire project, except for a punch list follow up, was completed in two weeks! Amazing!! Great Teamwork.”
All contractors worked well with one another to complete work so that Project Heart could return to the space as quickly as possible. Contractors involved in the project included: ORSA, Apache Interiors, Elite Electric, Home Improvement of Stillwater, B&L Heating and Air Conditioning, Murphy TSI, and Advantage Plumbing.
The SCC Friends and SCC Foundation secured matching grants from the Stillwater Community Foundation to help cover improvements and from the Allene Brown Fund to cover the purchase of new appliances and cabinetry for the food service area.
Now that Project 1 is complete, the SCC Friends and the SCC Foundation invite Community Center user groups and interested community members to attend the “launch” of the new and improved Dining and Event Hall on Friday, August 25, 2017 from 5 to 7 p.m. The event will include a special program of “Music on the Porch” featuring musicians from the Stillwater Ukulele Association. The Friends of the SCC will take the opportunity to recognize those involved in the project as well as to announce plans for “Project 2” improvements to the Stillwater Community Center.