Building a new North Judson-Wayne Township community center would be more affordable in the long-term than converting an existing building. That’s the message organizers of the community center project shared during a public hearing Monday.
Some residents asked about converting the current North Judson-San Pierre Elementary School into a community center, at a time when the school corporation is considering closing the building to match a decline in enrollment. However, project organizer Bill Crase says there are a few issues with that idea. For one thing, the school corporation hasn’t finalized plans to close the building. Instead, it’s decided to keep its options open for the near future. At the same time, he says grant opportunities prefer, if not require new construction. “There’s no money to remodel the school to turn it into anything, and the building being as big as it is, old as it is, and what it takes to heat it, those no way we could afford,” he said.
Instead, organizers hope that a smaller structure built from scratch would largely be able to sustain itself. While no specific numbers were given, organizers believe the building will get enough use to justify its construction. Some local groups plan to use it. For example, Community Services of Starke County plans to use the proposed facility as a base of operations for its meals on wheels service.
Beyond that, the North Judson-Wayne Township Fire Department and the town often hear from people looking to rent out the fire station for events. Crase said that the current fire station is not designed for that purpose like the old one was. He added that when the new station was built, the extra cost of the required fire sprinklers, restrooms, and ADA compliance was considered too expensive. The cost to add these features now would not be covered by grant funding, and there would still be issues with storing fire trucks and other equipment in the winter.
Crase added that a slightly more upscale community center would allow events like wedding receptions to be held, which he says might help boost the local economy. “Another thing you’ve got to look at with this project is the people coming into town that are also going to spend money for their forgotten items at our grocery stores, our gas stations, different things, and that’s something else that that’s going to bring to our community,” he said. “It may not be in a large draft, but it’s still going to bring people to the community.”
Plans for the new community center call for a 104-by-60-foot structure to be built behind the town’s fire station. It would be capable of holding 250 to 300 people. However, it wouldn’t have a full-service commercial kitchen, but would instead have more of a food warming station. In total, the new community center is expected to cost nearly $840,000. Grant funding from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs would cover $500,000 of that. Monday’s hearing was designed to give residents a chance to voice their opinions before the town submits a letter a intent to OCRA later this week. The grant application itself is due in October.