HENDERSON — Members of the Henderson community were able to learn more about a potential community center and voice their thoughts on it during a meeting Sunday afternoon.

The Henderson City Council hosted a community input meeting along with engineering firm Miller and Associates at Heartland Community School to get input on a potential Henderson community center and to provide information on the process the city has taken so far in moving toward getting this in place.

Kelsey Bergen, executive director of the Henderson Chamber of Commerce, said a community center has been a topic in Henderson dating back to 1975 but has never come to fruition.

“Opposition, fear and lack of planning have derailed community center attempts in the past,” Bergen said.

“We are going to face fear and opposition, but this time, we are creating a desire that has been building for 40 years and we are going to multiply that toward a vision we are creating here tonight. In the upcoming months, we will multiply that by each step that we take forward. If you can do that, we will make this project become a reality.”

Ashley Weesner, of Miller and Associates, an engineering firm the city of Henderson has been working with on the community center project since April, said the latest process started in March when the city was awarded a $9,000 Civic and Community Center Financing Fund (CCCFF) grant by the state of Nebraska to help in the planning and construction of a community center.

According to the state of Nebraska’s website, a CCCFF grant “may be used to construct and/or improve community facilities such as libraries, recreation and wellness centers, gathering spaces, convention centers, town squares, and cultural centers. Projects may include the conversion, rehabilitation, or reuse of historic buildings. The grant may also be used for preliminary planning related to the development or rehabilitation of eligible projects.”

Weesner said the CCCFF grant has two phases: planning and implementation.

“The planning phase, which we are in now, will establish short-term and long-term goals for future development,” she said. “In phase two, we will do construction. In phase two, the city of Henderson is eligible for $562,000 (in grant monies). Anything beyond that is the responsibility of the city, local funding, etc.”

Weesner said additional funding options for a community center include a United States Department of Agriculture loan, municipal bonding, local fundraising and funds from area foundations.

She said that Sunday’s meeting aimed to look at community demographics, community needs and the community vision for a community center. The city of Henderson has worked to identify community needs in regard to a community center and is continuing to do so.

“Looking back at the CCCFF grant application we submitted for the planning phase, there was a wealth of community support letters,” Weesner said. “I can tell you that just from reading those letters, the common theme throughout that was pretty consistent that adding a community center would enhance what is already happening in a progressive community. It was an overall positive and you could feel the excitement in your community in this process.”

She said a community center would need to be a city-owned facility. She told those who attended Sunday’s meeting that they need to think about how the community center would attract people to Henderson and make it a better place to live for existing residents.

During the community input meeting, attendees were able to name off locations in Henderson where they would like to see a community center. Suggestions included near the town’s park and ball fields, near the golf course and east of the town’s swimming pool.

Weesner placed round stickers on a ma at each suggested location for attendees to review toward the end of the meeting.

Craig Bennett, also of Miller and Associates, said the community center location would need to be within the city limits of Henderson or just outside it so the city can annex the grounds.

Meeting attendees were also able to write their concerns, excitement and broadest appeal of a community center on large notepads. Some concerns were the community buy-in to a community center, funding to build it and the costs of employees to staff activities at the center.

Some excitements about the project were the potentials of a fitness center, the ability to attract more people to Henderson and the ability to have it be a place for people to meet both formally and casually. Attendees said the broadest appeals of a community center are receptions, reunions, meeting rooms, a senior center and a day care.

After Miller and Associates receives more public input on a Henderson community center, Weesner said, the company will present it to the Henderson City Council in February 2020.

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