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Expansion at Sampson House drawing near

A nearly two-decade effort to create a larger community gathering spot is close to its goal with the selection of a contractor and applications to gain city planning approvals for Jacksonville Community Center Inc.

A 2,800-square-foot structure that incorporates the current center building will be at Fourth and Main streets on land the city has leased to the group for 50 years. A great room will take up the majority of 1,962 square feet in the new part of the center.

“What we are seeing everywhere is people looking for space to have events,” said Jeanena Whitewilson, a member of the organization. “It’s a perfect location, only one block from the commercial center and half a block from a park.”

Documents submitted to the Planning Department for a performance review show a kitchen and bathrooms along with the great room. The original building, the Sampson House, will include a gathering room. The new addition will be south of Sampson House and the main entrance will be off of Fourth Street.

“Since it’s an historic house, the addition has to be on the back side,” said City Planning Director Ian Foster. He’ll check the review for completeness before it goes to the Planning Commission and the Historic and Architectural Review Commission for approvals.

Ausland Group has been named the contractor for the center. Ausland has worked on renovation projects at the Britt Festival grounds and the Jackson County Courthouse in the town.

Fundraising efforts will be announced, said Whitewilson. About one-third of the money needed for the center has been raised so far, she said. No project cost was available.

"Once the tractors move dirt, everyone wants to get in on it,” said Whitewilson. “We have a volunteer who is a grant writer. She has been diligently working, but we haven't gone out to the public yet.”

In 2014, supporters reported that Jacksonville Senior Center Inc. had raised $140,000 for the project through sales at its thrift shop. A financial statement submitted with an application for a city grant this year showed the community center group had $57,765 in savings and investments.

Weddings, meetings and reunions are among the events center organizers hope to attract. The center may also serve parents who want space and activities for children, Whitewilson said. Groups currently using the Sampson House will continue to do so during the construction period.

Among groups that meet at the center are Jacksonville Woodlands and Trails Association, Friends of the Historic Jacksonville Cemetery, Cemetery Commission, Jacksonville Boosters and Girl Scouts. Musical groups also practice there.

The City Council Tuesday awarded the center group a $1,500 grant from the hotel lodging tax fund so that it can construct a website to make the public more aware of the new facilities. The group will supply $500 of in-kind labor for the Web project.

Also Tuesday, the council approved listing for sale the Miller House, which is immediately west of the center lot. Miller House has functioned as City Hall, but city offices are expected to move into the renovated Jackson County Courthouse, now owned by the city, within the next month. The council set a minimum price of $400,000 for the Miller House.

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.