Adaptive Reuse: Ridgeway Community Center

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Adaptive Reuse is a relatively popular category for the Rural Resurrection website. If done right, an adaptive reuse project can be a profitable venture for those involved. But if done right, it can also become a visual centerpiece for your community, drawing others in. Our last posting in this category was on Lloyd House, in Menominee, Michigan. This week we’ll take a look at Ridgeway Community Center in Ridgeway, Wisconsin.

About forty minutes west of Madison, Wisconsin is the village of Ridgeway. At 653 residents, as per the 2010 census, the community is not sizeable by any means. However, the energy that the community puts forth is quite sizeable in itself.

This is especially true when it comes to the Ridgeway school. Originally constructed with the Federal Public Works Administration Program in 1939, the building served as an educational facility for all of the community’s children until the 1960’s when school consolidation forced the high school students to Dodgeville. It continued to serve the community’s younger students until the entire school was closed by the Dodgeville School District in April 2020.

Impact of School Closure

Just like any other community that has lost their school with the ongoing school consolidations, the community mourned the school’s loss. A significant part of the community is gone. There’s a gaping hole in the heart and soul of the community.

But the pain isn’t limited to the sight of your kids leaving town each day to attend school in another community. There’s also the building that is left behind. In many communities, the school building is the largest, most notable structure in town. Many of these buildings have been around for generations.

School buildings also serve as hubs for the community. Residents gather regularly in these structures to take in plays, concerts, and sporting activities. These serve as one of the few central gathering places in the community, regardless of age, religion, or social status.

But with the closings, doors to these grand structures are locked shut. They sit vacant with scant hope for rehabilitation and reuse.

This was the case in Ridgeway as well. The school system had no intentions to use the facility. But this former product of the New Deal was still important to the residents. “It’s a real focal point of the community,” states Hailey Roessler, the City Clerk and Treasurer for Ridgeway. “The school meant a lot to the residents here.”

Compounding matters for Ridgeway was that a small portion of the school facility housed the local Ridgeway Marshall’s Office. It made little sense to keep everything running in the building just for this small office. But where else in this small village could the office move to?

Ridgeway Community Center

Ridgeway School; Courtesy – Village of Ridgeway

No Time to Waste

As important as the building was to the community, leaders in Ridgeway wasted no time. That summer they routed a survey to get input on how the community wanted to utilize the structure. They also applied for and received a grant from Compeer Financial to do a feasibility study to assess the possibility of changing the school into a community center. The final report for the feasibility study was completed in December 2020, just eight months after the school closed.

Read the Feasibility Study Here

But community leaders didn’t take long to ponder their options. They had already reviewed the draft study in October of that year and made the decision to purchase the building for one dollar. The Village Board then budgeted $450,000 for needed repairs to make the facility usable to the citizens as soon as possible.

Under Construction

Without skipping a beat, the Village of Ridgeway issued a request for proposals in January of this year to address the HVAC issues and make improvements to the Community Room. The plans are done and a contractor has started on the improvements. In roughly two years the facility has gone from being closed to under construction in preparation for its new use as a community center. That’s quite amazing, especially for a community with just over 650 residents.

Renovation Project Plans

The facility itself will have quite a bit to offer residents of this community. The village is moving its office into the facility and the Village Board (and other committees and commissions) will use the Conference Room. But it is also a hub for much more:

  • Community Gym
  • Volunteer Library and Media Center
  • Senior Center
  • Kitchen and Multipurpose Room
  • Conference Room/Meeting Rooms
  • Marshal’s Office
  • Retail and Business Space
Ridgeway Community Center

Ridgeway Community Center; Courtesy – Village of Ridgeway

Raising the Capital

Like most small communities with big ideas, raising the funds to pay for the renovations has been no small task. Being able to leverage local philanthropists when projects like this come around is often key to the project’s survival. The social capital side of fundraising is an often undervalued aspect unless you understand how your efforts can pay off. Many times, even when a donation is announced as anonymous, it was the result of weeks, months, or even years of discussions with a potential donor.

However, in Ridgeway’s case, it was a surprise to those involved. The Village received a check in the mail for $50,000 and a letter detailing the future contributions. In total, Ridgeway received a donation of $250,000 towards the renovations of the facility. “It was a real game-changer,” Hailey stated. “…it made all the difference.”

The community also received a grant from Compeer Financial to help with the feasibility study. The Village’s website also lists the project’s partners and others who have helped fund the improvements.

Ridgeway Community Center Sign

Ridgeway Community Center Sign; Courtesy – Village of Ridgeway

A Staggered Effort

With a facility of this size and the plans that the community had, it is incredibly hard to get it all done in one fell swoop. But not everything has to be done at once. Is it an inconvenience to stagger the effort out? Sure, but residents understood efforts and the goal to bring back the facility to the focal point it once was.

But it didn’t take long for things to start happening. The Mashall’s office of course didn’t have to move. Although the feasibility study talked of long-termed improvements to this area, the Marshall continued to serve the community out of the structure.

The gym also didn’t take much. Mainly setting up some rules and regulations for its use before residents were able to start enjoying the recreational space. The improvements for the library were completed quickly and it was up and running within eight months.

The village offices didn’t need much for renovation either. This allowed the Village to move out of shared space within the fire station and into their own space.

Although some of the facilities could be opened up for operation, work continues elsewhere. “The rest of the building needed some more love,” states Hailey. Contractors are working on much-needed HVAC improvements. Asbestos tiles have to be abated. Room-specific improvements for the new multi-purpose room also need to be done, including changes to the flooring, ceiling, and lighting within the room.

The commercial offices will also be available after the renovations are completed. The Village has already received interest in the offices and they expect interest to climb with the completion of the improvements.

Don’t Stop, Don’t Slow Down, Keep Going

Representatives kept pushing on this project. They’ve trudged forward, completing task after task without delay. That keeps the public’s interest in the project. It also helps keep the naysayers at bay. Those who say that something won’t happen because they haven’t seen any recent movement. Constant pushing, and constant work toward a common goal get’s projects done in rural communities.

As a result of their efforts, the Ridgeway Community Center will once again become the hub for the community that the school once was.

You may know of an interesting adaptive reuse project. One that may be a helpful example to other communities, don’t keep it to yourself! Let us know through our contact form.

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