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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — The Colfax Village Board’s Elevator Commission needs your help and is seeking groups, clubs, organizations, and non-profits that would be willing to take a short survey to assist with an application for a planning grant.
The groups, clubs, organizations and non-profits do not have to be located in Colfax and can be from the surrounding area, or even a neighboring county, if the members would be willing to consider using the Colfax Municipal Building for meetings and events, if the building were renovated and more accessible to people with disabilities.
“We hope to have at least ten local groups — the more, the better— express interest in using our building as a meeting place in the future, were it remodeled and made more handicap accessible,” said Lisa Bragg-Hurlburt, director of the Colfax Public Library and a member of the elevator commission.
“Improvements to the building will be expensive. In order to get funding for that — specifically, in order to get the Community Development Block Grant — we need to demonstrate that there is a need for meeting space in this community. We also have to demonstrate that the building can meet those needs,” she said.
“The more interest we can get, the better the chance of this project getting done. It would be nice to have a central meeting or gathering place for everyone to use,” said Troy Knutson, a member of the Colfax Municipal Building Restoration Group and a member of the elevator commission.
The planning grant would be for $16,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds administered through the state of Wisconsin.
Based on the recommendation of the elevator commission, the Colfax Village Board at the September 28, 2020, meeting approved contracting with Cedar Corporation out of Menomonie to do a facilities analysis with a CDBG planning grant.
The CDBG planning grant covers two-thirds of the cost, so the grant will pay for $10,660 of the facilities assessment, and the $5,340 of the village’s share will be paid out of the elevator fund.
Elevator commission members have been fund raising for the past several years, and to date, the elevator fund contains about $70,000.
Earlier in 2020, based on the recommendation of the elevator commission, the village board approved using $2,500 from the elevator fund to contract with Cedar Corporation to write the planning grant application.
The goal of the elevator project is to make the municipal building handicapped accessible on all three floors, with handicapped accessible bathrooms on all three floors and to renovate the basement so it is accessible and available to a wide variety of community groups.
The information from the planning grant will be needed to apply for CDBG funds to complete the elevator project.
Since Colfax has more than 51 percent of its residents designated as low to moderate income, the village qualifies for a two-for-one Community Development Block Grant of up to $1 million to complete the elevator project and renovation.
The estimate for installing an elevator and completing the renovations for the municipal building is $700,000.
If the cost of the elevator project were to be $1 million, for example, the CDBG money would cover $660,000, and the village, with funds raised by the elevator commission, would be responsible for $340,000 of the cost.
The elevator commission intends to continue fund raising and applying for other grants to cover the portion of the cost not covered by a CDBG grant.
Colfax has not had a community center — a public space available for everyone to use for a variety of activities — for 25 years.
In years past, the Colfax Municipal Building was used by the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, the Colfax Woman’s Club, church groups, the Kiwanis, the Dunn County Barbershoppers, businesses, 4-H clubs and the Red Cross for blood drives, to name a few.
The building was used as a triage center to assess the injured following the June 4, 1958, tornado.
When there was a John Deere shop in town, John Deere Day was held in the auditorium.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the last event in the municipal building auditorium was the Elvis Presley double-feature movies in January of 2020.
Prior to that, there had been a number of activities in the auditorium, including the Missoula Children’s Theatre two summers in a row (“Blackbeard the Pirate” and “Jack and the Beanstalk”), family movie nights, performances by The Britins (a Beatles tribute band), Poppa Bear Norton, The Looney Lutherans, The Stringsmiths, the Ukulele Klub of Eau Claire, Jim Herrick and Friends, Dually Noted (a dueling pianos act), and Truth Be Told events hosted by Steve Russell and Kobi Shaw for Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, vacations, and to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the June 4, 1958, Colfax tornado, as well as Halloween and Christmas parties for children sponsored by the Colfax Public Library.
“Public space and a community center are the kind of assets that will help Colfax attract new development and keep dynamic people living in the area,” Hurlburt said.
“Rural Wisconsin may not have the big population numbers of some of the larger, more urban areas, but we have an active, engaged community who likes to learn, gather, and grow. This is an opportunity to invest in our own futures by improving what’s currently available to village and township residents,” she said.
“I think what’s unique about this project is the attempt to move the community into the future while incorporating its past heritage, this building, and all it represents.” Hurlburt said.
“I think it would be good to have one central meeting place, somewhere everyone knows its location and everyone can access at all levels. I also think it’s very important to teach and remind people of our historical past,” Knutson said.
Keep it local
Since the Colfax Public Library is located in the municipal building, handicapped accessibility and renovation of the basement would help the library with programming but also would help the community in general.
“An elevator would make it much easier to attract groups and quality programming to the building. Regular traffic here will mean regular traffic for downtown businesses. People tend to ‘cluster’ their errands,” Hurlburt said.
“If it’s more convenient to use our library, it may also be more convenient to shop at the local grocery store, use the pharmacy, get gas here, and so on. People will realize the variety of services we offer in Colfax and make this their ‘trip to town.’ That will encourage businesses to expand and create opportunities, as well,” she said.
“This ‘keeping it local’ is not only good for the economy, it’ll save gas and be good for the environment. Also it will help build the feeling of community we have here. Many local people have already donated to our fundraising effort and it would really be a morale booster for everyone in Colfax if we could accomplish this team goal,” Hurlburt said.
So “what if” the planning grant, and subsequently, the CDBG funds, are not obtained for the elevator project?
“There’s no guarantee that we will get the planning grant or the Community Development Block grant. If we do not get the large boost of funding, we are years, perhaps many years, away from starting construction,” Hurlburt said.
If Colfax was awarded CDBG funds, construction could begin as soon as 2023.
“There’s always the hope that we will eventually find a large private donor, but at some point, the library will have to realistically assess what our plans for the future are. We need to provide accessibility to our patrons with mobility issues. If the building cannot be adapted for easy multi-level use, we will have to look for a single level alternative,” she said.
“That’s not what we want to do. We love our current location, and all the history it represents. We also love the team effort we’ve been engaged in, working toward this common goal. The community has been great. But we really need this Community Development Block grant to make the dream happen,” Hurlburt said.
“If we do not get the planning grant, then I am not sure we will be able to move forward,” Knutson said.
Knutson noted he appreciates of all of the donations that have been received so far because the donations have made it possible to contract with Cedar Corporation for writing the planning grant and for funding the village’s portion of the planning grant.
The donations and money collected through fund-raisers also will help cover the portion of the elevator project not covered by CDBG funds, if the project is able to secure those funds, he said.
“I would really hate to see the library move, but I understand that they need to have a space accessible for everyone,” Knutson said.
“But if the library was to move, then I can’t see the building staying open much longer after that. There would be very little foot traffic in or out of the building, and the village office would look at moving instead of paying maintenance on a huge building for one small office space,” he said.
If your group, club, organization or non-profit would be willing to fill out a survey to assist with the planning grant application, you can contact Lisa Bragg-Hurlburt at the Colfax Public Library at 715-962-4334 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
You can also contact LeAnn Ralph at the Colfax Messenger at 715-962-3535 or on her cell at 715-308-6336 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.