Concept for proposed community center unveiled

By Robert Myers
Pioneer News Network

THOMPSONVILLE — The newly formed board of directors for the Betsie Valley Regional Community Center unveiled their conceptual drawings for a proposed community center building during a fundraising event at Iron Fish Distillery on Thursday.

The Iron Fish fundraiser ran all day and Brotha James gave a live performance in the evening, but at 6 p.m., the board of directors and planning team gave a special presentation to community members and local government leaders about their vision for the regional community center and conceptual drawings for the building.

Betsie Valley Elementary principal Amiee Erfourth has been a leader on the planning team, and while she was unable to attend the event, she left a video message highlighting the community’s need for the proposed center.

Architect Fred Campbell presents his drawings for the proposed Betsie Valley Regional Community Center to interested community members. (Robert Myers/Pioneer News Network)

Architect Fred Campbell presents his drawings for the proposed Betsie Valley Regional Community Center to interested community members. (Robert Myers/Pioneer News Network)

“Being this far out, we are really in a situation where we are kind of isolated from services like healthcare, childcare, access to quality preschools and things like this can be a challenge for families, especially families that are just starting out,” Erfourth said. “The dream for the Betsie Valley Community Center is really the vision that we would create and sustain a community center that meets the needs of all ages.”

In response to what Erfourth and the Betsie Valley Planning Team have identified as community needs through their work over the past three years and their partnership with Illinois Facilities Fund, they have worked with architect Fred Campbell to draw up a potential facility.

The facility would include space for daycare, serving 50 to 60 children. It would also include a clinic featuring medical and dental practitioners to care for all ages. Laundry services would be available. There would also be a suite of offices to be used by organizations such as Michigan Works!, senior living, Department of Health and Human Services, law enforcement and more. The final part of the regional community center is a recreational and educational center featuring meeting spaces, a walking track, courts for basketball, pickleball and handball, and full-size locker rooms.

The building would be connected to the existing Betsie Valley Elementary School in a manner that would allow students and staff to access the community center facilities when needed while also maintaining the security of the school building.

Previously, the Illinois Facilities Fund had suggested a 41,000 square-foot building, but Campbell’s designs lowered that number to 37,000 square-feet. This building would cost an estimated $10 million. Having come up with a concept, the next step for the board of directors will to be create a finance to committee, which would be tasked with creating a capital campaign.

While raising funds is the next big step, Martie Manty, who presented at the meeting on behalf of the Betsie Valley Regional Community Center Planning Team, said that the group is being patient in order to ensure they get everything right with the planning process before beginning a fundraising campaign.

“There is that period of doing the capital campaign, raising funds and actually constructing the building, but I would say that would be the easier part of our challenge,” Manty said. “Nobody wants to see an empty building that didn’t work out, so we are taking all of the time that we need to make sure that there is a sustainability plan in place.”

The Betsie Valley Regional Community Center would serve approximately 23,000 people of all ages living in 10 different townships in Benzie and Manistee counties, supporting a large area which lacks what many other people take for granted.

“These townships have no infrastructure. You don’t have a choice whether to go to one doctor or another doctor, or one dentists or another dentist. We have no dentists, no doctor, no natural gas. Every business out here operates off of propane,” said board president Allan O’Shea. “These communities have gotten used to surviving this way, but I think we can all realize that there is a better way to do this, and that’s what we are trying to accomplish.

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