Jacksonville builds center on community support

    MAIL TRIBUNE / FILE PHOTO <br><p>Rick Patche, president of the Jacksonville Community Center, talks about plans for the project in 2016. The center will hold a grand opening Saturday.<br>{/p}

    A grand opening Saturday for the Jacksonville Community Center will cap more than 20 years of efforts by many town citizens to create a large space for activities.

    The center was accomplished largely without government participation, relying on local support and efforts. More than $700,000 was raised for the project from donations and grants. In-kind donations have pushed the project value to nearly $1 million. A $23,000 loan from the city in November allowed completion.

    In contrast, Talent’s Community Center opened in 2016 funded mostly by a federal grant, while Phoenix’s new $2.8 million community center will be paid for by that city’s urban renewal district tax revenues.

    “There’s just been a lot of support from the residents, but Jacksonville is basically a community-based town. We are very supportive of one another,” said Jeanena Whitewilson, vice president of the Jacksonville Community Center board. “There have been new people who have come, and they buy into the same compassion for one another.”

    An open house will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. at the community center, on the corner of Main and Fourth streets. A brief program will start at 5:15 p.m., and there will be a slideshow on the center’s development. Refreshments will be served. The center’s new Yamaha upright piano will be played thanks to the donation from the family of Mary Venard, a town resident and music teacher who died in 2018.

    The center has hosted events since last summer, but leaders held off on a grand opening until all aspects of the building were finished. The 2,900-square-foot structure incorporates the 800-square-foot Sampson House, which served as a community center since the previous century.

    In 2013, the city approved a lot line change for the Sampson House and a 50-year lease of the property to the center for $1 per year. Construction by Ausland Group began in summer 2017, but the project hit a snag when the roots of large cedar trees in front of the new portion needed to be protected with a special foundation. The $70,000 expense exceeded contingency funding, but leaders were able to raise additional money.

    The city land agreement, along with additions of new board members, allowed the group to push the project to completion, said Whitewilson.

    “Remember this thing was a longtime project. The desire for it was something that was building over a period of many years,” said Mayor Paul Becker. “I think that was what contributed to the finish for it.”

    Efforts to create a community center began in the 1990s shortly after Jacksonville Seniors, Inc. worked with the city to renovate the Sampson House, said Whitewilson, who has been involved with the effort for over a dozen years.

    “There are such community-based people who live here. Most of us belong to other community groups,” said Whitewilson. “Many of those groups used the Sampson House for meetings and events, and members were aware of the need for a large facility. By 1999 they realized that the needs of the community were even larger than what they could do there.”

    That’s when the Jacksonville Community Center organized to pursue the larger goals, while the seniors concentrated on raising money.

    “They knew how to sell things, but nothing about building,” said Whitewilson.

    When the seniors got a lease from the city on the Brunner Building in 2003, they opened a thrift shop. In 2015, the seniors donated $153,000 toward the project. Viola Davis supervised the thrift shop until she retired in 2013 at the age of 88.

    JCC leaders held fundraisers also, running the Celebrate the Arts festival every Labor Day weekend for more than 10 years on the courthouse lawn until remodeling work on the building in 2015 ended the event.

    Various locations for a center were considered. Among suggestions were incorporation of the center into one large civic building that would also house city administration, fire and police services. Becker said such a project was ultimately deemed too large for the city to take on.

    Not just fundraising but also a lot of volunteer physical labor helped complete the center, said Whitewilson. Those efforts ranged from landscaping to finish work.

    The facility includes a kitchen and can be rented for events. More information can be found at jacksonvillecommunitycenter.org.

    Reach Ashland freelance Writer Tony Boom at tboomwritergmail.com.

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