Walton community center project on track

James D. Wolf Jr. | Pharos-TribuneBuildings on Depot Street in Walton are ready for demolition to make way for a new community center.

WALTON — The Walton Community Center should be a reality within six months.

The line of unsteady 19th-century buildings along Depot Street, just north of the town hall, is scheduled to be demolished by Aug. 1.

When the exact day is finally set, town manager Rick Lee plans to post it on Facebook so residents who’ve been asking about it can watch — from a safe distance, he stressed — as the work three years in the making begins.

The contractor has six months to finish the work, but Lee said that, depending on the weather, it could be done sooner.

When the Cass County Community Foundation offered to grant $25,000 to the project if Walton raised $50,000 between May 1 and May 8, 2018, townspeople rallied. “Just by the local donors, we reached that in three days,” Lee said.

Then, when the town had to double that to raise $100,000 to match a $500,000 federal grant, Walton reached the goal in six days.

That community spirit continues.

When the center is completed, town officials intend to have a trust fund in place for maintenance.

Lee said that he’s already heard from people wanting to donate $1,000 or more to that trust so that interest can be used for the center.

And a business has offered to sponsor a free cookout and open house for the residents when the center opens.

A park is also planned on the north side of the center, Lee said. If there’s isn’t enough money for that at first, that project can come later, he added.

The Walton Community Center, which will seat 150 people, is intended to become a focal point for the community for festivals like May Day and for July 4, also providing an area for people rest inside.

With the planned generator, ADA-compliant restrooms and showers, the center could be a storm center in cases of tornadoes, blizzards, floods or heatwaves.

The Community Center will also be available to rent for private functions.

Non-profit groups like the Lions, Little League and scout troops will be able to use it for meetings and fundraisers without charge as well.

“It’s not there to be a money maker. It’s there to take care of itself,” Lee said.

The Depot Street buildings seemed the obvious choice three years ago when the town received a grant to plan the center.

“We agreed that where these old buildings [are], this is what it’s got to be. These buildings are going to fall down,” he said.

They were built in the 19th century and shared walls, as was common then, so it would be impossible to remove one without affecting its neighbors.

The Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs officially released the project funds to Walton on June 21 after the town finished planning and took ownership of all the buildings in the strip.

The three northernmost buildings — a former grocery store area — were owned by the Main Street Association, but the town just took possession of the Lion’s Club building and McGraw’s Bicycles Plus on the south end last month.

Walton bought some property on Dutchess Street just west of Main Street to swap with Dale McGraw for his store.

McGraw said he appreciated the new property and was concerned that if the Lion’s building came down, the shared wall would be affected.

He also had no problem with moving for the benefit for the community, and the new location near the highway may also help him. Customers sometimes had trouble seeing his shop while he was on Depot, back from the main streets.

“People can find me,” he said. “You can see me from [US] 35.”

Reach James D. Wolf Jr. at james.wolf@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5117

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