TALENT — The award of a $1.5 million federal grant to build a new community center will benefit everyone from food pantry operators to pingpong players.
City officials announced at Wednesday's Talent City Council meeting they will get federal Housing and Urban Development grant money to build a 4,500- square-foot, single-level center.
Completion could take one to two years. The new building would be just north of City Hall on land owned by the city.
"It will impact so many people. Food & Friends, ACCESS (food pantry), pingpong folks, larger weddings," said City Manager Tom Corrigan. "Mostly it would include citizens that need a place to meet."
Currently a city-owned 1899 school house is used by the community, but it's heavily booked and constant activities are taking a toll on the structure that was added to the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year.
"It relieves so much of the workload on that building and that's what we really wanted," said Corrigan.
Food and Friends offers meals to senior citizens in the current site on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Mayor Bill Cecil said he expects that program to move to the new building, where it would benefit from a larger, commercial-grade kitchen. Other uses will be governed by policies developed by City Council.
Two groups that participated in development of the grant application would both appreciate new spaces.
Talent Food Pantry, run in conjunction with ACCESS, operates out of 250 square-feet in the former library that now houses the Talent Historical Society.
"People need to wait outside in the elements in order to receive services and some of them can't wait outside," said Zac Moody with the panty operation.
The site currently serves 30 to 35 families per week. Food comes from ACCESS and the Talent Food Project.
Table tennis attracts up to 20 people who use four tables, says organizer Joe Hunkins.
"It's a little smaller than ideal," Hunkins said of the current space. "The biggest limitation is the lighting. We bring in sets of halogen lamps to play."
Churches, self-help groups, weddings, parties and other events all use time at the center.
Officials from the state agency Business Oregon, which administers the grants, and the Rogue Valley Council of Government encouraged the city to apply as it wrapped up an $849,000 federal grant that provided a new water line under Highway 99.
A 117-page grant application was completed in a little more than a month to meet a Sept. 27 deadlines.
"In one meeting we had to close out the highway grant and hold a public hearing for the building," said Corrigan.
This funding cycle may also have been the city's last opportunity to apply for such grants, which require that at least 51 percent of the town's population be low to moderate income. HUD is now updating those figures annually and city officials expect Talent to no longer meet that criteria in coming years.
There's no requirement for a city contribution of funds, but the city will have to pay about $73,000 for permits and system development fees. The city will seek bids to build the center after designs are complete, said Corrigan.
City meetings will continue in the 1899 center because federal rules prohibit use of the new building by city government.
Corrigan said the city will work with Marla Cates, executive director of the Talent Urban Renewal Agency, to make improvements to the old building.
"We'd like to bring the building back to more of an historical look," he said.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.