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Columbia City launches Community Hall campaign

After success with Veterans Park, Columbia City officials tackle event center renovations

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - The Columbia City Community Hall been used by residents for a variety of events. In 2015, the hall was used for 231 different community events.The Columbia City Community Hall will celebrate it's 90th birthday this year, but the need for renovations and upgrades to the building have been on the city council's radar for several years.

Three years ago the Columbia City City Council added upgrading to the community hall to its project list, but the city was in the midst of developing the Veteran's Park. Funding for capital improvement projects in a small town is tight, Leahnette Rivers, Columbia City City Administrator, explained, and one project had to be completed at a time.

“We knew that this was going to be a grassroots effort, just like Veteran's Park was. It wasn't going to just come from one source, and we didn't have the money available to just build it,” Rivers said.

In May 2015, work was completed on Veteran's Park with for $109,000, with an additional $50,000 of in-kind donations being made. A few months later in October fundraising efforts were launched to fund the next project – upgrading the community hall, the city's most used event venue.

Since then, close to $8,000 have been raised through sponsorships, donations, and community fundraising efforts. In November and December six women in the city volunteered to sell baked goods and pies around Thanksgiving and Christmas, which netted $1,400 for the improvement project. Others have also made donations of needed items for the hall, like a warming oven for the kitchen and a baby grand piano for the stage.

“I've been shocked by how responsive the community has been to the project,” Rivers said. “I think they're very excited.”

Planned upgrades to the city hall include creating two separate restrooms and a baby changing room, adding storage under the stage, refurbishing the kitchen, installing a shower room, and replacing the mounted basketball hoops with moveable ones.

While total renovation costs are estimated to exceed $150,000, the project has a benchmark goal of raising $20,000 through fundraisers and donations. The city council will likely apply for a Ford Family Foundation Grant, when that amount raised reaches $10,000, Rivers said.

PHOTO COURTESY OF LEAHNETTE RIVERS - A historical photo of the Community Hall. Historical records do not indicate when the porch and columns were added to the building. So far the city has received a $5,000 grant from the Samuel S. Johnson Foundation, and has applied for a $30,000 grant from the Oregon Community Foundation and a $15,000 intergovernmental service agreement from the Port of St. Helens.

The total cost of the improvements could change as work is completed. Only architectural design contracts have been awarded so far and designs are still being completed. Work bids for construction projects have not been sent out yet, but will be soon.

Rivers said the plan is to complete each renovation as funding is available, rather than waiting for the total project goal to be reached before starting. The city council would determine which upgrades would take priority and be completed first.

Construction is not scheduled to begin until June this year, but when it does Rivers said the goal is keep the community hall as accessible as possible for people to rent out.

Rich history

The community hall has had a rich history over it's many years of use in Columbia City, Rivers said. It has been used as an election polling location, a venue for dances, sporting events, wedding receptions, birthday parties, memorial services and community celebrations. In the event of a disaster, it's also a designated emergency shelter.

In 1926 when Columbia City was incorporated, a group of women whose goal was to “promote community togetherness,” formed the Columbia City Community Club. They quickly began a grassroots fundraising campaign to build the hall for the grand total of $12,800 in just four months. The club turned the building over to the city in 1940.

The Community Club, which was instrumental is the construction, of the building is still active in Columbia City today. Dolores Heinz, a Columbia City resident and president of the Community Club, said the club made a $100 donation towards the latest renovation project because the community hall wouldn't have existed without the club to begin with.

While historical records don't indicate how the club raised the $2,000 to build the hall, Rivers said, through the grapevine community members believe the club fundraised in many similar ways like holding bake sales. In a way, it brings the project full circle Rivers said.