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County considers sale of Ronan Community Center

POLSON — Following an announcement from Lake County Commissioners that the county is considering the sale of the Ronan Community Center, concerned citizens crowded into the commissioners’ office for a public meeting Tuesday afternoon. 

The community center sits on a county-owned five-acre plot that also houses the county fairgrounds — the entire facility will be replaced when the planned Mission Range Event Complex (MREC) is built west of Ronan on Mink Lane. But for now, the question county commissioners are asking is whether it’s in the public’s best interests to sell the community center and/or the rest of the fairgrounds now, before a replacement facility is completed. The sale could generate seed money for MREC construction and spur on the grant collection process for the project, some citizens argued.

“Our interest is whether (the community center) should be sold at all,” Commissioner Paddy Trusler explained at Tuesday’s meeting.

Community members, including the board of the Boys and Girls Club, which has expressed strong interest in purchasing the building, offered their opinions on the proposed sale. Most voiced concerns that if the building is sold, the community will be left without a meeting place to hold events that have long been housed in the Ronan Community Center. 

“It’s very important that you understand we’re not trying to disenfranchise you from that building,” Boys and Girls Club board member Gehrand Bechard noted.

He and other board members emphasized that if the Boys and Girls Club were to buy the building, the club would strive to keep providing a meeting place for the organizations and public events that now take place at the community center.

“Every single use is important to us, particularly those that involve the youth in our community,” added Cynthia Forsch.

The Boys and Girls Club, she explained, is under a time crunch to find a new home in 2010 — the organization received a grant to buy a building, with the stipulation that it must make the purchase this year. The club’s current building on U.S. Highway 93 eventually will be removed when the highway construction project moves through Ronan.

“We need to have a building secured with that money now,” Forsch said. 

While the Boys and Girls Club offered several convincing arguments for the sale of the community center, Trusler noted, if the building is put up for sale, it will have to go up for public bid and be sold to the highest bidder. 

One way to ensure that the community’s needs are met until a new, similar facility is built is for the county to stipulate in the sale contract that the new owner must continue to allow public use of the facility, at least for a reasonable amount of time, Ronan Mayor Kim Aipperspach pointed out.

“This has been somewhat thought out … There are good and bad things about it,” he said. “I’m sure if we put the correct wording in the sale contract … the community’s needs will be met.”

Aipperspach also noted that if the commissioners want to gather maximum input from community members, a public hearing should be held in Ronan at the community center.

Ronan resident Jim Peterson seconded that idea, and explained that many people in Ronan feel a strong sense of ownership of the center, although the building is owned by the county.

“That building’s been a major part of Ronan for a long time,” he said. “I think it needs to stay in county hands … until there’s something else in place to meet the needs of Ronan and the county.”

The budget for replacing the community center and fairgrounds is $1 million, Trusler noted, with the community center — which includes one acre of land — appraised at around $315,000. 

“That’s just the minimum bid we can take,” Trusler said.

Trusler and Commissioner Chuck Whitson said they will schedule another public meeting on the matter to be held in Ronan.

"We're very committed to serve the community," Trusler said.

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