St. Edward community center project lives to see another day

February 27, 2019

Dean Hamling thought that there was about a 60-percent chance a new half-cent sales tax within St. Edward city limits would pass.

Voter approval by city residents would secure the initial funding for the constriction of a new community center. A no-vote would leave the project dead in the water.

Ballots were tallied on Feb. 12. Out of the 206 received votes, 55.83 percent (115 votes) were for the tax and 44.17 percent (91 votes) were against.

“I wasn’t surprised,” Hamling said. “It wasn’t an overwhelming majority, but it did pass. So we’re moving forward.”

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. Hamling, a former mayor and current city council member, said the city has submitted its 16-page grant application and will find out if it’s approved for funding by March 30.

“You have no idea, it just depends on how many apply,” Hamling said on the likelihood of the application’s approval. “There’s just so many dollars in the fund.”

The city’s current community center 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, 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 (ADA) for accessibility and has problems with its kitchen, restrooms and asbestos tile floor.

Justin Frederick is the superintendent for St. Edward Public Schools and a member of the project’s planning committee. He said he’s glad the sales tax was approved and happy to see the project could move forward. In regard to the vote, he noted he was also unsure if it would pass.

“I wasn’t sure, but I was hoping that with the legwork we’ve done that it would pass and people would get on board,” Frederick said. “Because our current community center is not in good shape.”

Frederick said the school plans to utilize the new center as a second gym space since it’ll only be a block away from the school. Currently, the school is struggling with only having one gym. Student basketball and volleyball teams have to take turns practicing at the one location. A second gym would solve those issues. The school is also interested in using the new community center’s kitchen space for student cooking projects and working with community partners to build life skills.

Even with the money from the bond and the potential grant, the city would still need to find a way to raise an additional $300,000 for the project. Project planners have been reaching out to business and residents within a 30-mile radius about contributions for the project. So far, $60,000 worth of pledges from people through the Boone County Foundation has been made to help support the project.

Those interested in making a pledge can call the city office at 402-678-3322 or stop by 1302 State Highway 39 to grab a pledge form.

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