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After four decades, an island landmark to get remodeled

By Staff | Feb 25, 2015

Tom Sharbaugh, the Chairman and President of the Sanibel Community Association, said the remodeling of the Community House should start this summer. BRIAN WIERIMA

It’s been well over four decades since the last time one of Sanibel’s most historic and storied buildings has received a make-over, and that time is about to come starting this summer.

The Community House of Sanibel has been the hub station for residents to gather, socialize, meet and plan since its inception in 1926. Everything about the facility means “community”, from the time it was built to the literally thousands of events which has taken place since the doors were opened.

The facility has housed and maintained the community of Sanibel way before it was recognized and incorporated as a city. It has fostered and provided a sense of togetherness for its citizens for nearly 100 years.

Now, it’s the Community House’s turn to be shown its well-deserved attention.

Starting this summer, the Community House will undergo a much needed make-over, which will run over into the summer of 2016, said Sanibel Community Association President and Chairman Tom Sharbaugh.

The Sanibel Community House around the year 1930. PHOTO PROVIDED

“We are expecting the initial prep work this summer, with the major bulk of work being done in summer of 2016,” Sharbaugh said. “Because its such a vital facility, we can’t have it out of commission during the busy season. There is too much to accomplish in one quick summer. So the target is to have it up for business in its new clothes by the end of the summer of 2016.”

The history of the Community House directly correlates with the history of the island after it was built in 1926. With the island providing seclusion for its residents, there still was a need for socialization.

As was printed in an Islander article, celebrating the Community House’s 50th Anniversary, “Although many of the people who settle on Sanibel are drawn to the island by its isolation, for the past 50 years most have found that, as one popular song says, people need people.”

It started with a an idea by islander Curtis Perry, who spearheaded the drive to construct a social center for Sanibel. He visited every dwelling on the island, seeking funds to build such a facility. Perry eventually became the first president of the SCA and ultimately the plans came together through volunteers and donations.

Ever since then, that’s exactly how the Community House is run – through the community’s effort.

The Community House in 1958. PHOTO PROVIDED

“Its been continually a community supported facility and no tax money is put into it,” Sharbaugh said. “It’s fully community supported. Its paid for by dues by the Sanibel Community Association, donations contributed and user fees paid by people who use it.”

But as time moves on, change comes with it and that time is now to prop the Community House into 2015.

“Over the years, the needs have grown and changed,” said SCA vice president and spokesperson Richard Johnson. “The population has grown and changed. Additions have been made and kept up, but its still pieced together as it continued to serve its purpose.”

The last major upgrade and addition came in the early 1970s, when the auditorium was constructed. The plumbing and electrical is outdated, as are the restrooms and kitchen area.

The SCA has been planning for a remodeling project for quite some time now and the time for the plan to be enacted is now.

The Civic Core’s plan of incorporating the three busy facilities of the Community House, BIG ARTS and the Center of Life has been in the making for awhile. One of the potential plans is to move the Community House across Periwinkle Way to create more space, but that project is still a ways away in the future.

The SCA is still part of the Civic Core process and supports it, but the upgrades needed will help the present.

“Our participation in Civic Core is to think about our long-term interests, but our short-term is about remodeling,” Sharbaugh said. “The Civic Core is a complicated process, and it will need a referendum to pass and there are lots of moving parts to it. We don’t know how long it’s going to take.

“We have to be good stewards of our membership and needs as an organization and doing a modest remodel, will make it usable for the current time. It’s hard to predict the long term, but we are staying very involved in Civic Core process.”

Johnson agrees that the SCA is still very on board with the Civic Core plans.

“We support the Civic Core process, we played a role in it from the very beginning and will continue to play a role,” he added.

The SCA listened to suggestions by users and what they could see for themselves. The plans have been drawn up and ready to commence construction.

The first priority was to preserve the history of the Community House, since the front part of the building is the 1926 original and has been added to the Historical Preservation Landmark list.

There will be a mix of history preservation, along with modern upgrades for users to enjoy.

“We need to maintain our relevance in the community and keep up with the times,” Johnson said. “Our remodeling plans is keeping our history, but also just keep it up to date.”

The history will certainly be preserved, Sharbaugh included.

“The front part of the building is historical, and needs to remain that way. We’ll keep it in the old Florida style, with a cottage-look to it,” he said.

More space will be created by connecting the auditorium with the two other rooms by tearing down the concrete wall and replacing it with a movable one. That will enable the Community House staff to either convert the space into three different rooms, or just one big open room for larger functions.

“There will not be a whole lot more square feet added, but we will have more flexibility,” Sharbaugh said. “We can break it down in smaller spaces, but also can open it up with movable walls.”

More pressing needs such as enlarging the lobby area and restrooms is also on the agenda.

“All of the plumbing, electrical, heating and air conditioning is all piecemeal together, so we’ll need to bring that up to modern requirements,” Sharbaugh said. ” The most visible changes will be to the exterior. There will be new restroom facilities and the lobby area will be bigger and have more carrying capacity.”

For those functions which are catering food, a new and improved kitchen area will help tend to those needs by doubling the space, along with more modern facilities.

Staying the course of being community-backed, no funds will come from city coffers. Instead there will be a fundraising campaign to help pay for the remodeling costs and will be 100-percent community funded.

“We have had events in last three or four years which were to raise money for remodeling,” Sharbaugh said. “There was the Dancing with the Island Stars series, which was a big event on Sanibel. We have kept that money in a separate account, and it has been preserved and not mingled with normal operating costs.

“We are still developing the total cost. We will be coming to community with a fundraising campaign, but our status continues to be non-profit, and not supported at all by city tax dollars.”

The remodeling project which will start this summer, will be one to address the present, not the future, which potentially will come from the Civic Core project.

“It’s like an old shoe, in that it’s nice and comfortable, but it doesn’t look as good as it needs to,” Johnson said. “It’s time for a Community House upgrade.”