When the first group of local kids steps into the Bluffton Community Center to get some help with their homework, the smell of fresh paint will likely still linger in the air.
Renovations at the long-neglected Goethe Road facility wrapped up Wednesday, and leaders of center are looking forward to expanding the programs offered there.
“It’s been kind of neglected for years based on the fact that there isn’t really any funding for upkeep,” Bluffton Town Councilman Fred Hamilton, who serves on the community center’s board of directors, said earlier this week. “But now it’s getting a total facelift, both on the interior and exterior.”
The hope is that renovations will make the building “more appealing to our young people that we want to bring in,” Hamilton said.
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In recent years, the center has mainly been used to host community meetings and as an operations base for Med-I-Assist, a program that provides prescription medicine assistance and eye exams for older neighborhood residents.
But Hamilton said the center will soon offer a slate of programs to “give the young people an opportunity to further their academics and life skills.”
There are plans to start an after-school tutoring and mentoring program, he said.
Its location — within walking distance of M.C. Riley Elementary School — makes the center a prime location for after-school programs.
The center, which first opened its doors more than 40 years ago, will also use one of the newly renovated rooms to build a computer lab.
Hamilton said the board plans to use a $12,000 grant it received from the town several years ago to purchase six computer stations, which will allow “kids to come in and do research, do their homework.”
“This is especially helpful because there are some kids in our community who may not have internet access at home,” he said.
The renovations came courtesy of volunteers from the Bluffton Lowe’s Home Improvement location.
As part of the Lowe’s Heroes initiative, store employees and local contractors affiliated with the program participate in annual community improvement projects.
Megan Hensley, a local Lowe’s employee who has helped organized the renovation project, said “Our store is given a small budget to go out into the community and find people or organizations in need.”
“I kept seeing (the community center) when I would be driving by on Goethe Road ... and it just looked so rundown,” she said.
At Hensley’s urging, Lowe’s managers “came in, checked it out, and we decided that this was a project we could take on this year,” she said.
The community center renovation “is way bigger than what we typically do,” Hensley said.
In fact, “this might be the biggest project we’ve done,” she said. “But they needed so much help, so we just took it on anyway.”
About about $8,000 in materials and more than 300 hundred hours of volunteer labor were used in the renovation project, which began last Wednesday, she said.
Laura Bush, a former community center board member who runs the Med-I-Assist program, said, “It’s great that we are getting a facelift.”
“There’s been a lot of action going on over there, I can't wait to get in there see what they’ve done,” she said. “I’m sure we will have a whole lot of people who will be taking advantage of (the renovated center and the planned kids programs).”
“What Lowe’s has done is give us a sense of belonging,” he said. “The center is a place where you want to be now — it’s not just a building that’s rundown and old in nature.”