JACKSONVILLE — Two-decade-old efforts to construct a new community center building are getting another push as advocates and the city look at possibilities.
The City Council has set a study session for April 23 to consider where a center might be located.
The 800-square-foot Sampson House, next to City Hall in the 100 block of East Main Street, serves as a center but lacks space to handle a significant number of people.
"When we have a meeting there, if we have 20 people in the room, it's too many," said former City Councilor Donna Schatz, who was liaison for the center throughout her council tenure from 1995 until December.
"Right now we are in the process of putting preliminary ideas in the pot," Schatz said.
Mayor Paul Becker will offer a preliminary idea tied to the November transfer of ownership of historic properties to the city by Jackson County.
Becker said he hasn't discussed his idea with a buildings management committee set up to investigate immediate and long-term uses or with the council.
Becker would like to see city offices move out of the City Hall, located next to the Sampson House, and relocate in the old courthouse building on Fifth Street.
The Sampson house could be moved or torn down, a community center built on the site and City Hall utilized for center office space, he said.
A lot line between City Hall and the Sampson houses would need to be dissolved to allow a larger structure.
Jennena Whitewilson with the Community Center group says its members would like to see a larger building constructed at the current location.
"What we would like to accomplish is to build a center for all ages," said Whitewilson. "There's a misconception that it's for seniors only."
A new building with large commercial kitchen could be rented out and also serve the needs of nonprofit groups that provide support work in Jacksonville, said Whitewilson.
Activities at a new center also could target children and other groups, says Whitewilson. She said that could help retain and attract younger families to Jacksonville.
Two organizations have worked on community center issues over the years.
The Community Center group was created to investigate sites and other new center issues. The nonprofit Jacksonville Seniors pays expenses at the current site and operates a thrift shop with proceeds set aside to help with the creation of a new center.
"We have been buying certificates and saving the money," said Viola Davis, who is manager of the thrift shop.
The group has a little bit more than $100,000 saved for center construction, she said.
Originally operated out of a garage between the Sampson House and City Hall, the thrift shop later moved to the city-owned 1855 Brunner Building on Oregon Street.
"The money (for a community center) can't come from the city," said Becker, noting the city will be hard-pressed to preserve and rehabilitate the historic structures.
But time is not on the side of some of the community center advocates.
"If we don't get it built pretty soon then some that had started it won't be here," said Davis.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.