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Woods Community Center Project a Go

Construction on $1.6 million project could begin next year.

It has been both a private home and the offices of the Burke Centre Conservancy, but soon the Woods Community Center will be spruced up to stand alongside its counterparts in the other four neighborhoods in the planned community.

One of five community centers within Burke Centre, the Woods is the oldest and most distinctive building, dating originally to the 18th century. Located on Wards Grove Circle within the Woods neighborhood, the building has experienced structural collapses and cramped conditions over the years, but the Conservancy Board is preparing to change all that with a $1.6 million project to enlarge and refurbish it.

Instead of simply renovating the existing building, the Burke Centre Conservancy Board of Trustees voted earlier this year to gut and rebuild an additional space on the building’s back side.

"My contention was if we are going to be doing renovation why don’t we purposely build something that would be beneficial to the community as a whole?" said Greg Smith, chair of the board and the Woods neighborhood trustee.

With the approval of the board, the Conservancy has moved on to the design development phase of the project, with architect Robert Wilson Mobley from Great Falls currently working over possible design elements of the building.

Whatever the final design, certain elements of the Woods Community Center are certain — the more historic front half of the building, a former residence that dates originally to the 18th century, will be refurbished and retained. The rear half of the building, a 20th century add-on, will be razed and replaced with a "great room" suitable for larger gatherings and community events.

"The amount of money it would take to restore the existing structure is not far from what it would take to do something a little better," said Patrick Gloyd, the Conservancy's executive director.

THE CONSERVANCY has been looking into possible repairs to the aging community center for over 10 years, when it was identified by the Vision Committee as needing some upgrades. A partial ceiling collapse in the late 1980s raised more concern about the building’s structural stability. The size of the building’s meeting rooms was another concern. As a former private residence, the building only had small rooms, which made larger gatherings like those held in the other community centers in Burke Centre, a challenge.

"One of issues we’ve had with Woods is it only has small meeting rooms," said Smith, who oversees the regular neighborhood council meetings of the Woods neighborhood.

The ceiling problem was corrected, but no further repairs were suggested until a Woods Community Center Renovation Committee was formed in 2003. That committee heard presentations from five different firms regarding possible options, and in the fall of 2003, went with Mobley’s plan. The financial difficulties of 2004, however, put the project on hold, but Gloyd said with the recent findings of a study that mapped out the financial future of the Conservancy, coming up with the $1.6 million needed for the project was feasible, since the Conservancy has upped the amount of money set aside into the reserve fund annually.

According to Gloyd, the community’s Management Standards Agreement places stipulations on what the Conservancy’s reserve fund can be used for. Since the Woods project combines renovation with new construction, the task now is determining from which pot the money for each project will come.

"While we know we have more than enough funds to cover the project, what we’re trying to get at is exactly how much from each account," he said.

The current design development phase will nail down the specifics of floor and wall material and other details. Once the board approves that, the Conservancy will begin putting together construction documents. The project could begin accepting bids from contractors by early 2006, said Gloyd.

THE NEW and improved Woods center would have four small rooms on the main level, in addition to the large meeting room, which would hopefully have a capacity for 150 people seated at tables. This room could be used for Woods neighborhood meetings,

"I think it’s time we had a large-size meeting room there in the Woods so the Woods could have functions there in their own neighborhood," said Smith.

Conservancy communication director Jeanie Winslow said she is already beginning to work with community groups regarding scheduling since once the construction begins, the building will be out of commission completely.

"We’re going to be in limbo for awhile. That will be a little bit of a shakeup once the construction starts," said Winslow. Among the groups that regularly use the center are Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and several classes. The Burke Cares outreach uses the building to store clothes as well.

"We will try to accommodate the groups with the least amount of interruption," she said.

Although history about the building is sketchy, the original owner of the land on which the house was built was Henry Ward, and the Coffer family built the original house in the 1700s. Nothing in the existing house is older than 75 years, however, but the history of the place will make it special, among the Conservancy’s public meeting spaces.

"I think it will be definitely a cut above most of the institutional spaces organizations go to," said Gloyd.