Bertha is a pain in the butt. I should know — my husband, George Schoenfeld, and neighbor, electrician David Harris, service this cranky malcontent often — too often. TR Stewart, wrangler for Darwood Outfitters and singer of western ballads, collects Bertha’s food, a nasty soup of used motor oil occasionally laced with toxic contaminants.
My husband gets frequent calls about Bertha — strange noises, unpleasant odors, poor performance, no performance — and he drops everything to attend to her. Despite all this loving care from three attentive suitors, Bertha remains temperamental and high-maintenance.
Got your attention yet?
Bertha is the heating system for the Methow Valley Community Center, an ancient boiler at least 80 years old and failing. Occupants of the Community Center are frequently without heat, the Unitarians bundle up for Sunday services, and every once in a while, an acrid odor wafts from the bowels of the old building where Bertha resides, or black smoke belches from the chimney, setting off the smoke alarm, sending the fire department scurrying over.
The grants and facilities committees of the Methow Valley Community Center Association board are tasked with finding a way to provide the Community Center with a modern, efficient heating, cooling, and ventilation system. My husband is on the facilities committee so I frequently — too frequently — get to hear updates on this monumental endeavor.
So far, the Community Center has spent grant money on hiring P2S, an engineering firm, to determine a mechanical and electrical scheme for the entire building with the goal of making the Community Center a clean air refuge. The Community Center also needs extensive insulation that will bring the building up to code and will also preserve its aesthetic appearance. A detailed plan needs to be drawn up to determine how this project will unfold and to apply for grants.
A grant from the Washington Department of Commerce for $135,000 has been approved, but not yet received, and much more work needs to be done. The money from this grant will focus on the heating, cooling, and air purification system for the gymnasium because this portion of the Community Center is destined to be an emergency shelter. The Methow Valley Citizens Council has determined that as part of The Climate Action Plan, our community needs a safe and healthy place to go in times of poor air quality and wildfire evacuations.
The gym is already bustling with activity, serving as a place to play basketball or pickleball, hosting roller skating parties and Unitarian services, rented for events of all kinds such as our recent Christmas Bazaars, the Trashion Show, the Valentine Day Sweetheart dance, and two of the best book sales in Washington state. The book sales are so good, I’m planning on devoting a column to them.
Where will the money come from? Private donations help, but some really big bucks are needed, roughly $2.5 million. The Community Center board has started initial inquiries with our elected representatives and hired the Ostara Group, a firm that will seek out and write up grants. Like the Twisp Valley Grange that I wrote about in an earlier column, the Community Center is a valley institution that serves us well but is in desperate need of upgrades.
Completely retrofitting the Community Center is an ambitious project. But one thing I know — Bertha must go.