By Joseph Robertia
While Kenai and Soldotna community members have a variety of places to recreate indoors, people in outlying communities often have to drive into town to hold or take part in late-afternoon, evening or weekend events. Sterling residents decided they wanted a place to call their own, and after much ado, a nearly 14,000-sqare-foot Sterling Community Center is set to open as early as next month.
“It’s not done yet, but we’re hoping it’ll be done by next month, and we’re planning a big open house in June,” said Grace Merkes, a trustee for the Sterling Community Club Board, which will be overseeing the center, located on the corner of the Sterling Highway and Swanson River Road.
Not to be confused with the Sterling Senior Center, the community center will be a place for all ages to recreate and gather for a variety of functions.
“The impetus for this was to have a local community center for our youth to call their own, so they didn’t have to drive to Soldotna to practice sports or hold social events. The center will allow kids to play basketball, volleyball, to hold dances, the judo club can meet, and there will be foosball, pingpong and pool tables for them,” Merkes said.
There will also be work done on the nearby ice hockey rink and baseball field, and there are plans for construction of a new soccer field in the area. A paved parking lot will be laid out front.
Since the center will also have a DEC-approved kitchen, locker rooms and handicapped-accessible bathrooms, a library, 60-person conference room and offices, and a gym that can hold roughly 400 people, Merkes said the center will hopefully have enough users that it will be financially self-supporting.
“There will be modest membership fees, but operating expenses will be paid for by renting it out for larger functions, such as wedding receptions and other things. We’ve already got commitments for three large functions,” she said.
While the center is nearing completion, it has been a long time coming. Merkes said it’s been discussed, planned and targeted for funding for nearly a decade.
“It’s been talked about for 10 years, and we had architects draw up plans. We started asking for funding about five years ago, getting small amounts at first, $200 here, $300 there,” Merkes said.
The Sterling Community Club also received support from three different rounds of legislative funding, as well as being awarded a $120,000 grant from the Rasmuson Foundation. Still, the club has tried to pinch pennies and stretch dollars where it could, and Merkes said that nearly 100 businesses and individuals helped with reduced bid service, labor, trucks, material and other support.
“It’s basically a $2 million building, that we’re trying to build for $1.3 million,” she said.
The construction phase of the project has moved quickly, according to Merkes, particularly considering the groundbreaking for the center was last summer.
“We broke ground last July and Bob Oakes, our community club president, has really driven the construction. We’ve used contractors and subcontractors for all the licensed work, but we’ve had a lot of volunteers work as much as they could,” she said.
With the foundation set in warm weather, as well as the framing, siding and roofing done, builders were able to continue working on the interior construction through the winter, as well as completing much of the plumbing and electrical work.
“We have a few electrical fixtures left to hang and the firewater sprinkler system and electrical still needs to be completed. We should have the range hood Ansul (fire suppression) system done in the next couple of weeks. The gym and locker room floor installation started today and will be completed this weekend. The cabinets are ordered and so are all of the kitchen appliances. We have the interior door frames but we are still waiting on the door blanks to arrive. The floor coverings for the rest of the building should arrive this next week and we will start installation as soon as it arrives,” Oakes said.
Sterling resident Janet Jones said she is eagerly awaiting the opening of the center.
“I’m very excited for it, to have a place that will meet our needs so we’re not constantly driving to town,” she said.
Jones said she can conceivably see fitness and social aspects taking place at the center.
“I’m looking forward to having an indoor place to exercise and walk. Breakup, with the rotten ice and mud, is such a terrible time to walk outside, so this will give us an indoor walking place without driving to the Peninsula Center Mall or Fred Meyer.
“I think it’ll also be a comfortable meeting place for Sterling residents. I’ll like to get a once-a-week quilt group to meet there, where we could make quilts as a community service project for people in need. Before the center we would have tried to do this at someone’s home, but this will give us plenty of outlets to all work and spread out so we can all work on the same project,” she said.
For more information on the Sterling Community Center, visit the club’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/Sterling-Community-Center/196271993841538.