Here’s a no-brainer for those of us living in the rural Midwest: Would your community benefit from the learning opportunities provided by a library; the health advantages associated with a recreation center; or the social opportunities of a public gathering place? Would amenities like these enrich the lives of residents and enhance your community’s sustainability and growth?
The answer is obvious. Yet the reality is that oftentimes the financial resources needed for the planning and construction of these types of projects simply aren’t available.
But there might be some help.
You may have heard about the brand-new community center in Hickman, Nebraska, which held its open house earlier this spring. The 16,940 SF building features a multi-purpose room that can be used as a gym, a reading center, meeting room, patio, city offices, and a kitchen and bar area. The price tag for the facility, whose design was tailored to Hickman’s specifications and needs, was about $4 million.
So how did a community with a population of 2,000 manage to pay for the community center of its dreams? Hickman’s success was the result of creatively combining strategic planning processes, a solution-oriented design, and leveraging complimentary funding sources.
Strategic Planning Process
For Hickman, it started with a strategic planning process. The goal of this process was to establish a consensus on civic betterment initiatives so that local decision-makers could formulate strategies and target local resources (both human and financial) to accomplish their goals. Based on a 2011 survey and a strategic planning workshop, local stakeholders rated a new community center as the city’s top need, followed by a new library, recreation center, and updated city offices.
After contemplating the needs of the community, Hickman hired JEO Architecture, Inc. to program a building that combined the community’s most-wanted amenities into a single, multipurpose facility. The city was able to not only maximize its investment dollars, but also address the growing needs and desires of its diverse community.
With this vision in place, Hickman then invested in a planning study that outlined the scope of the project and provided cost estimates for the work.
Complimentary, Leveraged Funding Sources
Funding for Hickman’s community center originated from a variety of sources. The city used a combination of grants, low-interest loans, and statutorily-authorized programs to fund the community center project.
Each of the funding sources selected complimented and leveraged one another to create a successful partnership. Residents of Hickman widely supported a 1.5% local option sales tax (LOST), the proceeds of which are being used to repay a $3.6M low-interest loan through USDA Rural Development. Using the LOST and USDA’s loan as local match, Hickman successfully won a $375,000 grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development through the highly competitive Civic and Community Center Financing Fund Program.
There aren’t many communities that could build a multi-million project with just the money in their general fund. Familiarity with the types of funding available in Nebraska, in combination with some creativity within your funding plans, can transform a community need from a dream project to a real facility. It happened in Hickman, and it can happen in your community, too.