With the recent opening of the Maricopa Library & Cultural Center, renovation of its former space will result in new headquarters for a number of civic groups.
The $80,000 renovation of the old library at 41600 W. Smith-Enke Road is expected to be completed by early July.
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When ready, the 8,000-square-foot building will be christened the Maricopa Community Center and welcome several veterans and seniors groups in the city.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12043, American Legion Post 133 and the Blue Star Mothers of Maricopa will make the move from their current home on West Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway, near the school district administration building. According to City Manager Rick Horst, their quarters on the west side of the community center will be called the Maricopa Veterans Center.
While those three groups will have dedicated space, the door is open to others.
“All veterans are welcome to the center regardless of their affiliation,” Horst said.
Seniors will benefit from the changes, too. Currently, senior groups do not have a regular space for their activities. Seniors will have priority in booking time in the eastern part of the facility.
“The facility will house space dedicated to our senior community,” Horst said. “We are not hosting any specific senior group, but all groups may use the facility. Staff will coordinate all schedules and uses.”
An atrium in the center of the building can serve as meeting space or as overflow for larger events held by the seniors or veterans.
Once the veterans move, their former home — which was Maricopa’s original library — will be renovated for use as a museum and meeting place for the Maricopa Historical Society.
According to Horst, the $100,000 renovation will include repairs to the roof and HVAC system. Adjacent to the museum, the Silver Horizon railcar from the California Zephyr passenger train will likely become a welcome center. The historic dome car was moved to its location in the former Rotary Park in 2019. It is currently being rehabilitated with the installation of new windows and electricity.
According to Horst, the museum should be ready by October.
Neither the veterans nor the seniors will have to pay for their meeting space at the Community Center.
‘A VIABLE RESOURCE’
Joan Koczor, president of city council’s Age Friendly Maricopa Committee, said the new center will offer significant advantages over the current system.
“The availability of rooms for meetings is a definite plus,” she said. “As a senior advocate in Maricopa, one of the biggest issues I’ve always found is that if there was another group that needed the space we were in, we had to leave. Copper Sky rooms A and B were originally intended for seniors but that hasn’t happened.”
Seniors used to meet at the Copa Center on Honeycutt Road, but they moved out in April 2017 before it was torn down to build the overpass.
“We had the use of that building for years, we had it Monday through Friday from 8 to noon and could extend hours if we needed to,” she said. “That was the main building for us where we had security and knew we’d have a room.”
After the Copa Center was razed, seniors dispersed to other locations and had the option of using Copper Sky, if rooms were available, Koczor said. But over the past year, with the difficulty of getting members together due to into smaller groups to play cards or conduct other social gatherings. Koczor is hoping they will return and the community center “will be a viable resource.”
But despite all the advantages the new center will provide, one veteran official sees drawbacks in the move.
Post Commander Bryan Moore said the American Legion’s current location has a patio area with a grill and furniture. He said the Smith-Enke building is nice, but he doesn’t know if they’ll be able to have those things in the new place.
There is no space to accommodate his group’s many outdoor events.
The American Legion and VFW posts hold joint flag-raising ceremonies to commemorate wars, 9/11 anniversaries and holidays, but it is not clear if those public events can be held at the new location, he said.
“We have to have a flagpole and it is yet to be seen where that can be done at the new place.”
The lack of storage, Moore said, may prevent club members from providing a service they have offered in the past, obtaining items for distribution to fellow veterans in need.
“We try to keep items on hand that we acquire for future use by our fellow vets,” he said. “If we find someone who wants to donate a wheelchair or a walker, and if we don’t have an immediate need, we’ll store it until we have a veteran who needs it. This could make it harder for us to do those kinds of things.”
‘SO MUCH MORE SPACE’
The veterans seem to have at least a temporary solution to the storage issue.
“We have gotten a commitment from the Maricopa Food Bank to let us use some of their space,” Moore said. “It’s a little inconvenient to be having to run out to Papago Road any time we need something, but we’ll make do.”
Despite some of the hiccups that may occur during the transition to the new facilities, Horst said the feedback has been mostly positive.
“This has been our plan for nearly two years,” he said. “Our veterans seem to be happy. Our seniors do not presently have a space. Now they will, and they have expressed their excitement.”
Jennifer Bostian, the city’s deputy director of Community Services, said the renovated facilities will create more opportunities for people to meet and connect.
“We’ll just have so much more space to do things,” she said. “At the Community Center, even the central part will be open for the community to use.”
Previously, she said, there were a couple of meeting rooms at Copper Sky and a meeting room at the old library that could hold about 30 people.
“That was really about it,” she said. “This will make it much easier for groups to find a place to get together.”
She also sounded a note of caution to those who may be experiencing some growing pains from the process.
“People always worry when there is change,” she said. “But the city is bending over backward to be sure everyone is getting what they need. Of course, there will be some things that have to be adjusted for. The seniors are going to be thrilled.”
Bostian said Horst has personally met with them to make sure they are getting what they need.
“I think everyone is going to be very pleased when things settle down and everyone has had a chance to adjust to the new situation and their new space.”