Thursday, January 8, 2009

Community Centers

Most small towns in Maine, and around the world have a building or space which is where the townspeople gather for various events throughout the year.  Islesford is no different.  We are really luck to have the Islesford Neighborhood house.  The Neighborhood House sits almost directly in the center of the island,  this is very appropriate since it is the center for most of our community events.  I don't know the year that it was originally built, but I learned tonight that the land was sold about a hundred years ago for a little less than $300.

Events that take place over the course of the year are the Islesford Fair, Snata's Supper, Harvest Supper, Movie Night, Literature Night, Wits & Nitwits, Basketball games, gym class for the school, and the Islesford Buying club.  The Islesford Theatre project was started two summers ago, and uses the theatre to house it's summer production.  Their are various concerts that take place in the main hall, and many meetings are held in the ladies parlor.  Every other year the town meeting takes place in the neighborhood house, on the alternate years it is held on Great Cranberry Island.

Our Neighborhood House houses the town library.  Inside their is the ladies parlor, a kitchen, bathroom, the main hall that has a basketball court.  In the main hall is also the stage and storage room.  Unfortunately only the library has been updated to be used in the winter.  Each fall we shut off the water, and since the main hall is unheated it goes unused, except for gym class and basketball.  We are lucky to have the upstairs room that is insulated, but it cannot accommodate the entire winter community of 75 people. 

Throughout the years this building has grown to meet the needs of the community.  In the last couple of years there has been lots of talk about how we can make our island community sustainable.  How do we make this a better place to live?  We face many challenges, lots of them are very obvious.  How do we keep people living on this island, and how can possibly attract more people who are interested in living here year round?  One answer to many of these questions was to have a community center that is accessible year round.  

So a group of us started talking about how to make the Neighborhood House more usable in the winter time.  But besides making it more usable, how could it be used.  Could it be used for small businesses to produce goods?  Could there be a place for people to hang out and socialize at any time of the day?  

Since this building is essentially owned by the entire community, both summer and year round we wanted input from everyone.  So we held a big meeting to brainstorm ideas of what we wanted to use the building for, and what we wanted the building to be.  The extremes were, "don't change a thing," to "tear it down and start new."  But for the most part everyone was in agreement that we want a building that is more environmentally friendly, uses less energy to maintain it.  Has space large enough to house everyone in the community.  Has space for theatre and sports.  Most agreed that a better kitchen was a must, and a bathroom that can be used in the winter.  Winterizing was definitely a popular idea.

Being a small community, a person often can where many hats.  I am a board member of the Islesford Neighborhood House Association, but I am also a member of the Building Sub-committee.  The sub-committee has taken on the task of renovating the building.  We are currently working with an architect from Boston who summers here, David Axelrod.  He is consulting for us and helping to find architects that could design a building to suit our needs.  The committee is made up of 9 community members, and we have broken up into smaller task forces.  One task force is going to take the lists we got from the visioning session with the community and decide what it is we want to include in the renovation.  Do we want the indoor pool, and the bowling alley, do we want to tear down the wall of the ladies parlor, and what about a professional kitchen.

I am on the committee that is tasked with the capital campaign.  We are planning a meeting with people from the Island Institute who would like to help us in our goal of raising money to fund this project.  We don't currently have a $$ goal, as we haven't finalized our planes for the building's changes.  The capital campaign is also tasked with creating a brochure that we will send out to prospective donators.  We are lucky to have the Island Institute behind us.  They have funded a person who is working for the Neighborhood House for the next two years.  His job is to help the INHA to reach it's goal.  Another part of his job is to help encourage jobs on the island with a particular lean towards the arts.

We have a lot of work ahead of us, and many more meetings.  I am really excited about this project.  I feel that this is a project that will directly benefit me and my community in a positive way.  I don't think that I would involve myself in something like this if I lived in a larger community, but because I do live in such a small town I can have a direct impact on it's future.  I look forward to doing so.  Just by living here year round I am directly affecting it's future as an year round island in Maine.  Without folks like me and Kaitlyn and our many friends here on Little Cranberry island this would become a summer colony like many other islands off the coast.

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