Demolition, Renovation Possible Williamston Community Center

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The senior citizens that use the Williamston Community Center have fond memories of the last 20 years they've spent there. For some, the memories go back even farther, to when they attended school in the same building.

"There's been talk of demolishing this building," said Virginia Taschner, 87, the volunteer treasurer at the senior center. "Never! It's a landmark. It should be here. And I think it could be saved."

Saved a possible city plan, which could demolish the building or move the senior citizens -- who come from three townships to meet three times a week -- someplace else.

"I would say most people would like to see it saved, I know the seniors would like to see it saved," said Williamston City Council Member Kent Hall. "I believe there's a lot of potential here that's not being used that could be used."

"To me it's a solid looking old building," he said. "Are there some issues? Sure. But anything 100 years old is going to have issues."

The biggest issue, the city says, is how much it costs to maintain the building. It costs roughly $50,000 a year to heat and cool it, according to Mayor James DeForest. Add that to a crumbling chimney, peeling wallpaper and a leaky roof, and it has some in the city wondering if the money could be better spent.

Virginia Taschner says that money should be spent on renovation.

"There's nothing wrong with the building," said Taschner. "It's a perfectly good building and you look at some of these rooms down here, they're beautiful and they could be used."

Taschner points to the Hanna Building in East Lansing, itself a converted school, as an example of a renovation success. She says the Williamston building --which also houses the food bank and library -- is centrally located and near athletic fields.

"We want to stay here," she said. "We think this is the ideal location."

Library assistant Rebecca Langham is less resolute about changing a location. She just wants to make sure the library doesn't vanish.

"It's important that Williamston have a community library," she said. "If it means moving, it means moving. If it means expanding, I'd be open to either one."

Best case scenario, she said, would just be a little more space for its expanding resources -- computers and kids areas all take up space.

"This space is really, extremely limiting and it reflects badly on our wonderful community," said Jayann Mitchell, a Williamston resident who tutors at the library. "The facility for the library here in Williamston is pathetic. I don't know how the people can endure the situation."

Mitchell is in favor of expansion, but not necessarily destruction. She says the building's condition detracts from Williamston's other amenities.

There is no timetable for making a decision. Councilman Kent Hall says he hopes to have something in place by the end of the year, before heating season comes.

For now, the city is working on designing a survey so its residents can have a say. Funding would likely come in the form of a millage, Hall said.

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