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Community House renovation project under way

By Staff | May 18, 2016

A groundbreaking ceremony, including hard hats and shovels, was held Monday, May 9, to kick off The Community House renovation project. MEGHAN MCCOY

Eight years ago Marge Meek decided to become a board member for the Sanibel Community Association under one condition – that the Community House would be remodeled.

On Monday, May 9, many SCA members gathered for a brief groundbreaking ceremony that included hard hats and shovels to kick off the restoration project that has a tentative completion date of November this year. The Community House closed its doors Saturday, May 7 for the project. As individuals drive by the historic home, they will begin seeing plants and trees moved before the building undergoes a transformation.

“We are now going into the next generation and growing the Community House as a gathering place,” Meek said the afternoon of the groundbreaking.

Curtis Appleton Perry, who was the brainchild of the Sanibel Community Association, visited every home on the island to begin the project of building the Community House. Sam Woodring provided money, and Frank Bailey organized various materials for the building. Cordelia Nutt donated the land for the project and construction began in 1927, the same year it opened for business.

In 1967 the first major addition was added, the middle room, and in October 1979, the main hall was boosted to accommodate 500 visitors.

Meek took on the responsibility of kicking the renovation process into gear because she knew the building needed multiple improvements. A strategic plan was formed that included “remembering the past” of the building that began serving Sanibel and Captiva in 1927. An architect was hired and a plan was put together of what they wanted to accomplish.

When the designs were drafted for The Community House, such professionals were sought for IT, security, landscape, lighting, acoustic and architects to ensure the house would include the best of what is available today.

Meek said she began working with Mark Anderson of Benchmark General Contractors eight years ago; services all free of charge.

“I appreciate everything he did,” she said, adding that there are numerous others that have given their time for free when they most needed it during the process.

New SCA board members were also chosen to help the process build some momentum.

The next stage was brainstorming ways to raise funds for what turned into a $3 million restoration campaign in November 2015. Approximately 90 percent of their goal has been reached in four months, thanks to the generosity of more than 1,200 donors.

Meek put together an event many years ago, “Dancing with Island Stars,” that ran for three consecutive years. Meek said she worked with Ted Roepke with Tech Tronics, who was a tremendous help, for the event. All of the money generated from those events was put aside for the restoration project, which ultimately paid for the architect and permits.

The popular potluck get-togethers also began this past year to embrace “looking into the past and what brought the community together.” The monthly potlucks, which encouraged individuals to bring a dish for six to share, as well as a featured guest speaker, turned into the formation of a Kitchen Guild, now 80 members strong.

With the popularity of the potluck dinners, “Cooking with the Island Stars” was born raising $162,000, which went towards the kitchen’s remodeling portion of the project. The brand new kitchen, which has a price tag of $300,000, will be more than 900 square feet providing enough room for three chefs to cook at the same time.

Meek said since the kitchen is the flagship of The Community House, when it reopens later this year, they will begin offering children and couple classes, as well as chef courses. In addition, a garden will become part of the Community House grounds, due to one of the potluck speakers, Steve Cucura, owner of FruitSCapes, is working with Meek to put together a collection of trees and shrubs that would produce items they could use.

Meek said in an effort to plant for the future, they are also using a hydroponic technique to provide a “farm to table” service. She said it’s about helping the community incorporate the “farm to table” concept while pushing them in a healthier direction.

A video was produced that shared the history of how The Community House began, which Nicole McHale, who was also instrumental in raising funds for the project, said Debbie Gleason helped in making banners and promoting the video encouraging the community to watch. McHale said the video was shown at the Sanibel Public Library, the Sanctuary Golf Club, Island Cinema, Captiva Civic Association and the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village.

Once the project is completed it will include a new interior floor plan eliminating the solid wall between the middle room and the auditorium. The solid wall will be replaced with a flexible wall that can be included, or eliminated, depending on what the space will be used for.

The project will also include a covered entrance way without steps entering the building into a much larger lobby. The renovation also includes larger office space, larger bathrooms and a brand new conference room.

Meek said the renovation will take the Community House from 9,000 to 13,000 square feet.

The Sanibel Community House is the “birthplace of the city, heartbeat of its people.”

For more information, visit www.sanibelcommunityhouse.net.