Will help raise money for needed upgrades
At the Methow Valley Community Center, people dance and practice taekwon do, learn the violin, play pickleball, and read and do computer research in the library.
The community center in Twisp has been a true community hub since the moribund former school building was rescued in 1978 by volunteers. After clearing out truckloads of debris and plugging leaks, they repurposed the facility for offices, dance studios and community activities and opened the following year as a community center.
Today, the center provides some amenities for free — offering the gym to kids, school groups and people who walk laps in the mornings, and for memorials, manager Kirsten Ostlie said. Tenants pay subsidized rent.
Over the past four decades, the center has spent almost $1 million upgrading the roof, making a bathroom compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and enhancing the acoustics in the gym. The center management also repaved the parking lot, installed a drainage system, and improved the heating and electrical systems, all supported by community contributions and grants. Larry Smith, a former president of the community center board, still helps the center. The Christmas tree sales he organizes paid for the kitchen remodel, Ostlie said.
These upgrades have made the center run more efficiently. Because of energy-efficient windows and lights, the center pays less for power than in the 1980s. Ostlie said.
The center achieved all this without having the kind of nonprofit status that lets people claim their contributions as tax deductions. This November, that changed, when the IRS approved the center’s application for 501(c)(3) status as a charitable organization.
The community center applied for 501(c)(3) status in the early 1990s, but the IRS said the center didn’t run enough programs at the time to qualify, Ostlie said. Tax-exempt status has long been a goal, since it will allow the center to apply for larger grants for major upgrades.
The next big project is to replace the lighting system in the gym for performances and sporting events. The project will be done in several phases, starting with lights that can be controlled from the floor for performances. That will replace the cumbersome existing system, which requires people to climb ladders while hoisting big, heavy lights. The new lights will be protected by cages so that they don’t interfere with sports, Ostlie said.
The community center has raised more than a third of the money toward the first phase of the lighting project; the center is applying for grants for the rest. The hope is to install new stage lighting in the future, Ostlie said.
Also on the list — but further down — is replacing the hulking boiler that heats the building. Affectionately nicknamed “Bertha,” the boiler has been retrofitted several times over the years.
When it was first installed in the early decades of the 20th century to heat the old school, the furnace was fired by coal. It was converted to burn wood pellets from the Wagner Mill, and then to oil.
The boiler still runs on oil, but the center no longer buys used oil, which saves tens of thousands of dollars and lets them keep rents and fees low, Ostlie said. Instead, the center recycles motor oil collected from around the valley. The system is quite efficient and burns 82% clean. “It’s been tried and true,” Ostlie said.
Still, the center would like to replace Bertha with more efficient, zoned heating so it doesn’t have to heat the entire building when only some offices are in use. An up-to-date heating system is a several-hundred-thousand-dollar undertaking that will have to wait, Ostlie said.
The community center opened in 1912 as a school with eight classrooms for first through 12th grades. Construction took only five months and cost just over $12,000.
Although the last classes were held in 1973, the building is still owned by the Methow Valley School District. The center pays the district $1 per year in rent (the Senior Center pays an additional $1 per year). Both leases are up for renewal in May. Ostlie and board members are talking with school district officials to negotiate a longer-term lease that would provide more security when applying for grants necessary for large renovations, Ostlie said.
“We now look forward to the many challenges of moving forward with our mission through the doors that will open as a result of our new tax status. One of those challenges… will be attracting major donors to fund significant projects such as up-to-date heating and cooling systems, reroofing, and gym updates,” Ostlie and the board wrote in a letter to Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable in early December. “Our current facility lease with the District… does not provide the Methow Valley Community Center Association with the long-term security desirable for patrons considering large gifts and bequests.”