Fate of St. Edward community center at stake with vote

January 25, 2019

An upcoming vote in St. Edward could make or break plans for a new community center.

Approval of a new half-cent sales tax within the city limits could ensure the replacement of the event facility. A vote no, however, could leave the Boone County city of about 700 without such a venue in the near future.

The building on the corner of North Third and Beaver Street was built in 1910 as a feed shed. In the late 1960s, it was converted into a community center, utilized for social functions and events.

As of today, the building is sinking. With a foundation made of century-old clay bricks, city council member and former mayor Dean Hamling said the floor has sunk by as much as 3 inches in some spots. The current building is also not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act for accessibility and has problems with its kitchen, restrooms and asbestos tile floor, it was noted.

“It was built on clay bricks. I imagine they’re just deteriorating through the years,” Hamling said. “So the building’s foundation is in trouble.”

The city has drafted plans for a new community center to be built on a lot between St. Edward Public Schools and the town’s football field. The building will be 8,640 square feet and cost an estimated $1.3 million. It will also have a maximum capacity of 520 people, more than double the capacity of the old center.

The plan is to use the new sales tax to raise an estimated $640,000 over the next 20 years. This would be used by the city to pay for a $460,000 city-issued bond, plus interest. The money is needed in order to qualify for a grant from the Nebraska Civic and Community Financing Fund worth $562,000.

Ballots have been sent out to residents for the new tax and the results will be known on Feb. 12, just three days before the grant application is due. Even with the money from the bond and the grant, the city would still need to find a way to raise an additional $300,000 for the project. Hamling said with more grants and private donations, the project is possible.

“I think it’s probably doable,” Hamling said.

But Mayor Marv Haas disagrees. He indicated he is skeptical the project could become fully funded and that the ballot measure will be passed by voters.

“Personally, I don’t think it will (pass),” Haas said. “I’ve talked to more who tend to lean against it than I have for.”

However, Hamling was more optimistic. He gave it a 60-percent chance the measure passes.

“There’s always going to be a few naysayers,” Hamling said. “I have found more people who lean towards it than against it.”

If the sales tax is not passed, the project will most likely be canceled.

“We can be hopeful that it passes, but if not, we’ll have to restart,” Hamilng said. “The project, pretty good chance that if it doesn’t pass, it’s pretty much dead in the water.”

An alternative to the new center is to fix up the existing building for an estimated price tag of $300,000. Hamling said the city couldn’t afford to fix it up on its own and Haas said it was unlikely the city would be able to secure outside funding.

“Whenever I see grants, they’ve always been for new,” Haas said, noting he hasn’t seen anything for renovation.

Eric Schucht is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at eric.schucht@lee.net.