With grants from the Ford Family Foundation and the McConnell Foundation totaling $1.2 million, the Weed Recreation and Parks District has purchased the School Hill building from Great Northern. The plan is to transform the building’s main hall into a community center.

With grants from the Ford Family Foundation and the McConnell Foundation totaling $1.2 million, the Weed Recreation and Parks District has purchased the School Hill building from Great Northern. The plan is to transform the building’s main hall into a community center.

Escrow is set to close later this month, said Recreation and Parks administrator Mike Rodriguez. The Ford Family Foundation provided an $800,000 grant to make the purchase, and a $400,000 grant from the McConnell Foundation will be used for infrastructure improvements.

“We’ll be installing a kitchen, sound system, and purchasing tables and chairs to make this a nice community facility,” said Rodriguez. “Weed is known for its great parks, and now we’ll have a great facility to offer the public.”

The process to create a community center in Weed has been ongoing since the early 1990s, Rodriguez said.

Weed Police Chief Martin Nicholas, who is also a member of the WRPD board, has been involved since the beginning. In the 1990s, Nicholas met with the late Kenneth Ford, who wanted a community center near the schools so kids could easily access it, he said.

“It’s nice to see the concept finally come through,” said Nicholas.

Norm Smith, former president of the Ford Family Foundation, who worked on this project “his entire career,” said he is happy to see it finally come to fruition during a phone call Friday morning.

Project history

In 2011, both the WRPD and the Weed Revitalization Coalition submitted grant applications to the Ford Family Foundation for the creation of community centers in Weed. At that time, both applications were denied, and Smith stated the foundation was hoping for “one united application from the entire Weed Community.”

The McConnell Foundation agreed at that time that one effort was necessary.

Rodriguez said in the past two years, the District continued communicating with the Ford Family Foundation to explain Weed’s need for a community center and is thrilled the grant was approved.

Smith said this time around, the majority of the community has come together behind one project. “It may not be 100 percent, but the solidarity is stronger.”

He added the prospect of cash flow from renters and facility use fees also helped “paint a better picture for long term stability.”

“It’s really wonderful,” Smith said. “It took time to find the appropriate size for such a project.”

Smith said in years past, plans were thrown around for a large new community center to be built near College of the Siskiyous, however, that would have been too expensive to operate and maintain.

“The Great Northern building is the right scale for the community,” Smith said, adding that with this purchase, there will be no construction costs and because it is a newer building that meets code, it’s more sustainable.

To help offset the District’s costs in operating the building, School Hill Wellness and Great Northern will rent space in the building, Rodriguez said. In 2011, the concept of renters “had not been thoroughly investigated.”

“This is a long time in coming and we are very excited,” said Shannon Phillips, Vice President of Operations for the McConnell Foundation in a phone interview Thursday of last week. “The space is beautiful and a reasonable size to generate a lot of use.”

Phillips said when the WRPD stepped forward and offered a concrete plan to operate and maintain the building, it was a turning point in the McConnell’s decision to go ahead fund the project.

“We believe the Recreation and Parks District has the credibility and experience to make this a successful venture. We are happy to help provide a true community space to the people of Weed,” said Phillips.

The facility

In addition to the main hall, a few smaller meeting rooms will also be available for activities, Rodriguez said. One of these rooms is already utilized by the Siskiyou Golden Seniors.

When the main hall is finished, it can be used for recreational and educational activities for all ages, including boy and girl scout meetings, workshops and seminars, as well as private events like school dances, family reunions, wedding receptions and retirement parties.

In the future, Rodriguez said part of the infrastructure money may be used to make pool improvements and improve the parking area.

Rodriguez said the District is “open to working with other local community groups who may want to utilize the space.”

WRPD chairperson Sue Tavalero said the new community center is not intended to compete with the Sons of Italy hall, which has a larger capacity, or any other Weed facility.

“This is a smaller venue that will be perfect for meetings and such,” said Tavalero.

The main hall has a maximum capacity of 125-150 people, Rodriguez said.

The District is planning a community open house later this summer so the public can visit the new facility. They’ll be taking over operation of the building as soon as escrow closes.

“This will be a great thing for the Weed community,” said Tavalero.