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Solon community center progressing

Middle School may soon be open for public use.

SOLON– Within a few months, portions of the former Solon Middle School may be open for public use.
Solon city and school officials have been working behind the scenes to investigate a collaboration which may eventually offer residents something they haven’t had before– a community center.
“The public is extremely eager to take advantage of this opportunity,” said Solon City Council member Lauren Whitehead.
The Solon Community School District (SCSD) has committed to maintaining ownership of the building, and will continue to utilize the oldest portion for administrative offices.
But the rest of the complex, including the auditorium, band and choir rooms, the middle school offices, classrooms and a stand-alone science building, will not be used by the school system.
How the facility might be used and how the city and school might partner to provide the service are questions currently being hashed out in committee meetings between the two local governments.
Council members toured the former school (now known as the Iowa Street Building) Oct. 11 during a special session, the SCSD sent out a short survey to parents and staff in September and representatives of the city and school met Oct. 26 to continue the discussion.
“It was more of a brainstorming session on what their visions were and kind of what we thought we could do as far as allowing them access,” school board member Rick Jedlicka explained.
Jedlicka and fellow facilities committee member Jim Hauer attended the meeting, along with SCSD Superintendent Davis Eidahl and Building and Grounds Director Mike Kasparek.
“There’s so many good ideas for how we can use this space, now the challenge is the boring logistical stuff of when is it going to be open, who’s going to staff it, how will we work on fees, what space will we use and what will we do first?” Whitehead said.
Whitehead and council member Steve Duncan represented the city at the meeting, along with Public Works Director Scott Kleppe.
“I think we’ve tried to narrow it down to a few spaces that we know will get used that will be beneficial to a lot of different groups in town and try to get those going and see how that goes,” Whitehead said.
The science building, which has a kitchenette, may make an ideal community room because it has a lot of space and will have a separate key, she noted.
“A community center’s really what people are looking for,” noted Hauer, referencing the results of the district survey.
The survey asked participants to identify future uses for the building, what times it would need to be open and whether they would be willing to pay a small fee for usage.
The district received 159 total responses and the overwhelming common need was for a community center, although respondents defined the term in many different ways. Even more varied were the responses for the hours the facility should be open.
For now, however, the agreed-upon hurdle is how to pay for it.
“Who’s going to actually do the day-to-day management of such a facility?” Hauer asked.
“I think the city will probably have to provide the staffing or figure out a way to staff it,” Whitehead said. “That’s kind of where we have to start.”
She said the building will not require a substantial investment for renovation, and the city can hopefully as pieces as more and more people take interest.
“It’s still really in its infant stages,” Duncan noted. “It’s going to be baby steps for a while.”
Both Whitehead and Duncan supported utilizing the building to house city recreation programs which currently lease other facilities in town for classes.

The school district is happy to let the city take the ball and run.
“We have a beautiful facility here that we think has unlimited uses,” Jedlicka said. “And we’re more than willing to just turn this over to you and let you do with it whatever you wish.”
There still might be occasions where the district needs to use the gym, especially in winter, but in most of those cases the district would be able to provide ample advance notification.
“From a facility standpoint, we should pretty much have taken care of all of our needs outside of that property now,” Jedlicka said.
The community should also be able to see some use out of the elevated track which is part of a new high school addition funded by the Gerdin Family Foundation, the board members noted.
Jedlicka said it would be unlikely to open during school, but Hauer suggested the main public use might be for early risers. Jedlicka said an area off the walking track will be home to elliptical machines and other free standing cardio equipment which will also be available at some point for community use.
But the district doesn’t want to compete with existing businesses, he added, a sentiment shared with the city during discussions about the Iowa Street Building.
“We aren’t going to open a fitness center, that’s not the intent with what we’re doing,” he said.
Any uses the district allows in the interim will be viewed as temporary until the city makes a decision, Hauer added.
The committees expect to meet again before December.
In the meantime, residents with ideas for future usage should contact Solon City Hall.