Pioneer Center gets makeover, name change

There’s been lots of changes going on at the old Pioneer Center recently, including a new name. The Hebron City Council, on a suggestion from Center manager Howard Mills, changed the name to the Hebron Activity Center during its regular meeting June 4, in hopes of making the new community meeting place sound more modern. “A new name for a new community center,” Mills said. “Hebron Activity Center sounds up to date and lets the public know that the meeting room is open to everyone.”

The City acquired the Center in 2010 after the last member of the Pioneer Club died. Howard and Sam Mills volunteer to manage the building keeping the restrooms clean and maintaining the kitchen and main living area for potential rentals. The City pays them a small fee to take care of custodial duties.

But, last year the Center was fated for destruction after a leaky roof caused inside water damage to the ceiling and what the council thought might have been the floor and support beams. And since the structure shares walls with buildings on either side, the cost to tear it down quickly skyrocketed to $70,000.

Enter Chuck Fink, a local contractor who could see something no one else could. “I knew the walls were in pretty good shape,” he said while installing insulation in the new ceiling last week. “And there was nothing wrong with the floor – just a few loose tiles that needed to be replaced.”

Fink, who was attending an October 2011 council meeting for a separate issue, told the city officials then that he thought the building could be repaired and made into a usable community center for far less than $70,000. “For $15,000, you can put on a rubber membrane roof to stop the leakage,” he said. “Another $2,500 for a suspended ceiling, $7,000 to $8,000 for a new furnace and electrical…I’m just saying, for $70,000 you can tear it down and have nothing, or for less you can fix it and have a community center.”

His idea sold the council and they immediately voted to save the building. Fink, who offered his construction services free of charge, also became the unofficial leader of the project and regularly updates the council as the job progresses.

“I really don’t sit around very well,” he said while working at the Center last week. “I’ve never been one to sit around and watch t.v. I have to have something to do.”

Fink said he’s personally put in nearly 200 man hours rebuilding the community hall. He has regular volunteers who have helped him throughout, but appreciates everyone who has chipped in. “We needed a meeting place like this in Hebron,” he said. “That’s obvious, because Howard already has it rented four times in July.”

Once the new roof was added,  new heating and air conditioning as well as the replacement of all the old wiring gave Fink the go-ahead to start construction. So far he’s replaced the ceiling; combined the two old bathrooms into a new, larger and wheelchair accessible restroom; completely replaced the kitchen countertops and will add new cupboards and appliances; repaired, orange-pealed and painted the walls; replaced windows and doors; and is currently repairing broken tiles in the floor and insulating the ceiling.

“We’re using all local businesses to get the job done,” Fink said adding the current bills range around  $36,000. “That’s far below the initial $50,000 the city earmarked for the job. The government figures $35 an hour for construction jobs, so I’d say the volunteers have saved the City of Hebron over $15,000 in labor.”

The Center, with its expected finish date of July 1, can be rented for $80 a day and if the place is left as found, Mills added, renters receive a $20 refund.


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