WOODCLIFF, Neb. (AP) — When the Poehling family, who founded Woodcliff Lakes, put the John G. Poehling Community Center up for sale last year, residents of the community had a decision to make.

"The Poehlings were going to sell it and I didn't want to drive by boat storage, that was one of the options, and so I just said no," Woodcliff resident Mary Schlosser said.

Instead, Schlosser wanted to bring Woodcliff residents together to collectively buy the community center, and to retain the space for a variety of community gatherings as well to continue to use it as a rentable event space.

"It ended up coming down to a vote, and it was close," she said. "But the homeowners bought it."

According to Schlosser, the cost to each Woodcliff homeowner to purchase the building came out to around $900 a homeowner.

The Fremont Tribune reports that while many homeowners were initially reticent about buying the community center, during the past year many of those same Woodcliff residents have put their initial opinions aside and have come together to begin to transform the space into something they can all be proud of.

"It came down to seven or eight votes and we actually voted no. Honestly, we thought it was too much," Carla Mahrt, Woodcliff resident and founder of RePlant Woodcliff, said. "But at the end of the day, we decided that the masses had spoken, it passed, we own it — so let's really own it and make it the best we can make it."

Now, only about a year after Woodcliff homeowners came together to purchase what is now known simply as the Woodcliff Community Center, the transformation is already well underway.

"What I like about it is how the community has come together to support it," Mahrt said.

With help from a variety of private donations, fundraisers, support from the local homeowners association and RePlant Woodcliff, the Woodcliff Community Center looks a lot different than it did just a few short years ago.

"We bought all new picnic tables, tables and chairs inside, a new sound system, did a lot of electrical work, re-landscaped the entire thing, and now we've added the water feature as well," Schlosser said.

With funds raised at this year's annual RePlant Rodeo, hosted by local non-profit RePlant Woodcliff, the community was able to purchase an impressive new water feature that can be seen — and heard — from the community center's lakefront back patio.

"I think people love it so far," Schlosser said.

The water feature includes three recirculating waterfalls that spill over sandstone rocks down toward the patio, along with trees, shrubs and flowers that providing a welcoming sight to community members and those who rent out the community center for weddings, banquets and other events.

"There are a lot more people that come down and use the patio," Mahrt said. "I noticed when I came down earlier today that one of the tables was moved closer to the waterfall — so someone was obviously enjoying it."

Not only is the water feature for the community, it was also built by Groundscapes Inc., whose owners are also residents of Woodcliff.

The water feature will also feature another tie back to the community members that made its construction possible.

"What we did was sell sponsorships at the RePlant Rodeo, so there will be granite there will people's names on it," Schlosser said. "Some will be a family name, or a memorial for a loved one, and some local businesses as well."

Along with the various improvements made to the Woodcliff Community Center, has come a lot more community — and outside — interaction with the space.

"We use it every day," Schlosser said. "Church on Sunday's, there is a yoga class, exercise class, and we've been getting a lot more rentals for weddings and banquets."

According to Schlosser, the year before homeowners took over the center it hosted only seven weddings all year, while the space has hosted 35 already this year.

"A lot of people think that if they are not from Woodcliff they can't rent it, but we rent it to people from all over," she said.

Along with the many upgrades already made to the new and improved Woodcliff Community Center, the community has plans to continue upgrades.

"We always have plans," Mahrt said.

According to Schlosser, some planned upgrades include a large fireplace in a stone outcropping located on the building's patio as well as several fire pits and Adirondack chairs. She also hopes to add a portico over the front doors, an additional storage building and shade sails for the back patio, and renovations to the kitchen and bathrooms within the building.

She hopes to add more community centered events.

"My goal is to have Sunday night potlucks once a month, but we'll see how that goes over," she said.

For Mahrt, who initially voted against purchasing the building, she's enjoyed being part of putting the word "community" back into community center.

"It takes everybody," she said. "The HOA is part of it, RePlant Woodcliff, and just a lot of residents here have really stepped up. It's a community place now, and that's what it is — a community center."


Information from: Fremont Tribune, http://www.fremontneb.com