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Dundee hall project forges on

Project is about a third of the way toward completion

It’s been a long road to get to this point, and there’s an even longer distance ahead, but the journey to restore the Dundee Community Center has made some substantial progress on what is a truly historic effort.

The project began eight years ago and was somewhat tied to the building’s centennial birthday in 2015. It became more apparent to the Dundee Woman’s Club, which organized to build the community hall back in 1915 and remains the caretaker and primary tenant of the building, that the structure had been well-used for its first hundred years and that it was needing many repairs to continue to be viable.GARY ALLEN - One of the in-progress projects that's part of the Dundee Community Center restoration is a reworking of the entryways along the Highway 99W frontage. The stairways will be returned to their original orientation.

“It was suggested that perhaps we really needed to consider a restoration, something that would really bring the building up to the standard of the 21st century,” club member Joyce Colling said, “and be available for people to use in the coming years.”

Club president Faith Gerstel recalled that the building was “pretty much in shambles” at the time and that although the Woman’s Club would complete painting projects and refit the space with new appliances from time to time, they finally decided professional help was in order.

Colling, who had previous grant writing experience, took the lead in researching funding sources. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, having been nominated 30 years ago, and Colling found that designation qualified a potential restoration project for grants from several foundations.

Between grants, efforts by the Woman’s Club to do fundraising and collect solicitations from the community, those involved became encouraged that the project might actually be possible. So they took the next step and brought in an architect and contractor who could evaluate, before anything else was done, whether the building was a feasible candidate for restoration.

“They pronounced that it had good bones and that it was definitely worth restoring,” Colling recalled.

The architect drew up plans and as fundraising came in work began to take place. From the onset the club knew it was a substantial project, with estimates it would take $1 million to complete all the work involved in the plans. Through grants, contributions from former members, business community donations and more, the project has raised more than $250,000 toward its goal.

Colling estimated the project is about 35 percent complete.

“We have focused mainly on the structural part of the work so far,” she said, noting a new roof, foundation work, new front doors as the old ones were leaking, reengineering of the wooden beams beneath the roof, and more.

In progress right now, the sidewalk-facing entryways are being redone with a nod to their historic placement. Instead of doors that open and walk straight down a couple steps onto the sidewalk, the doors will open onto raised porches and stairways which face each other.

“We wanted to put it back to its original condition,” Gerstel explained.

Colling said the concrete for the new stairs was scheduled to be poured this week.

Coming up in the immediate future the club is hoping to secure a $92,000 grant from the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust in order to remove the false ceiling inside the building and expose the beams above, as it was originally designed, as well as installing new wiring and lighting. That would be the largest single grant yet bestowed for the restoration effort. A site visit as part of the grant application process is set for early September.

There have been a few changes to the original plans, due to circumstances that have come up since the restoration began.

A substantial city public works project on 10th Street forced the restoration plans to change somewhat, at least for the time being. Parking for the community center used to be available on the 10th Street side of the building, as it was an unimproved but paved street stub, but with new improvements bringing in storm sewer, sanitary sewer, waterlines, curbs, sidewalks, driveways, street lighting and pavement restoration to that intersection, the area is no longer a parking option.

Parking has therefore been shifted around to the other side of the building, meaning for the time being the patio and outdoor seating area proposed for that portion are on hold, though still planned eventually.

When the project began in 2008 it was not planned to take as long as it has. But, Colling noted, “then there was the economic downturn, so our fundraising didn’t take off like we hoped it would.”

The delays haven’t discouraged the club, though, and have instead called to mind another part of the building’s history.

“We’ll just keep working on it and that’s what the ladies of the woman’s club did way back then,” Colling said. “They got busy, raised the money and just did it by pure determination. So we’re kind of following their lead and working on it as much as we can.”