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Transformation of Bessie Rowell from school to community center continues

  • Connie Stanley sets up easels in her classroom at the renovated Bessie Rowell Elementary School in Franklin on Friday, December 28, 2012. Stanley is a classroom head for the Head Start program, the 3 and 4 year-olds in her class will start coming to the new location on January 2, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)

    Connie Stanley sets up easels in her classroom at the renovated Bessie Rowell Elementary School in Franklin on Friday, December 28, 2012. Stanley is a classroom head for the Head Start program, the 3 and 4 year-olds in her class will start coming to the new location on January 2, 2013.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • The gym at Bessie Rowell Elementary School is being used as storage as classrooms are renovated on Friday December 28, 2012. <br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)

    The gym at Bessie Rowell Elementary School is being used as storage as classrooms are renovated on Friday December 28, 2012.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Jen Creasey helps paint the walls in a classroom at  Bessie Rowell Elementary School in Franklin on Friday December 28, 2012.  The former lelmentary school is being renovated and will be used as a community center; Creasey works for Franklin's Rec Center, and the classroom will be used in the Center's after school program. <br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)

    Jen Creasey helps paint the walls in a classroom at Bessie Rowell Elementary School in Franklin on Friday December 28, 2012. The former lelmentary school is being renovated and will be used as a community center; Creasey works for Franklin's Rec Center, and the classroom will be used in the Center's after school program.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Jen Creasey helps paint the walls in a classroom at  Bessie Rowell Elementary School on Thursday December 28, 2012.  Creasey works for the Rec Center, and the classroom will be used in the Center's after school program.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)

    Jen Creasey helps paint the walls in a classroom at Bessie Rowell Elementary School on Thursday December 28, 2012. Creasey works for the Rec Center, and the classroom will be used in the Center's after school program.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Connie Stanley sets up easels in her classroom at the renovated Bessie Rowell Elementary School on Friday December 28, 2012. Stanley is a classroom head for the Head Start program, the 3 and 4 year-olds in her class will start coming to the new location on January 2, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)

    Connie Stanley sets up easels in her classroom at the renovated Bessie Rowell Elementary School on Friday December 28, 2012. Stanley is a classroom head for the Head Start program, the 3 and 4 year-olds in her class will start coming to the new location on January 2, 2013.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Connie Stanley sets up easels in her classroom at the renovated Bessie Rowell Elementary School in Franklin on Friday, December 28, 2012. Stanley is a classroom head for the Head Start program, the 3 and 4 year-olds in her class will start coming to the new location on January 2, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)
  • The gym at Bessie Rowell Elementary School is being used as storage as classrooms are renovated on Friday December 28, 2012. <br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)
  • Jen Creasey helps paint the walls in a classroom at  Bessie Rowell Elementary School in Franklin on Friday December 28, 2012.  The former lelmentary school is being renovated and will be used as a community center; Creasey works for Franklin's Rec Center, and the classroom will be used in the Center's after school program. <br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)
  • Jen Creasey helps paint the walls in a classroom at  Bessie Rowell Elementary School on Thursday December 28, 2012.  Creasey works for the Rec Center, and the classroom will be used in the Center's after school program.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)
  • Connie Stanley sets up easels in her classroom at the renovated Bessie Rowell Elementary School on Friday December 28, 2012. Stanley is a classroom head for the Head Start program, the 3 and 4 year-olds in her class will start coming to the new location on January 2, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)

Cans of paint and brushes were scattered the floors of old classrooms, stacks of moving boxes lined the hallways, and cups of coffee dotted the floors, evidence of two 12-plus-hour days of work.

This was the scene Friday afternoon at the former Bessie Rowell Elementary School as both Franklin’s recreation center and Head Start made final preparations to begin operating there this week, marking another step in the building’s transformation into the Bessie C. Rowell Community Center.

“To see just the transformation with a little bit of paint, it’s wonderful,” said Krystal Alpers, director of Franklin’s Parks and Recreation Department. “It’s just wonderful to see everything set up.”

Both groups will begin using their space next Wednesday, as the second and third departments to move into what is now being called the Bessie C. Rowell Community Center. Day-care program Tiny Twisters moved in this summer, and the Twin Rivers Intergenerational Program, which primarily functions as a senior center, and the city’s drug task force are set to move in next year. Walls were put up, torn down and repainted, brand new kitchen equipment was purchased, and school equipment has been removed and replaced since the renovations began in May.

Some reminders of the school still remain, such as owl paintings on the front windows and a red painted banner reading “Welcome to Rowell School” on the wall opposite the front doors. But soon even that banner will be painted over to welcome visitors to the community center.

Head Start and the recreation center will share one wing of the building, while Tiny Twisters shares the other with the senior center and community meeting rooms. The drug task force will have a small office at the entrance to the building, and all departments will share the kitchen.

Franklin’s school board voted to shut down the school, which housed third- and fourth-graders, in 2011 when the district faced a $1 million budget gap. The closing initially met resistance from city councilors and community members, but City Manager Elizabeth Dragon took over the effort to find a new use for the space rather than letting it remain vacant.

She said she wanted to find groups that could collaborate and finance their own portion of the building so the city would not have to use extra taxpayer money. Each group will cover its share of utility payments and contribute $5,000 to a capital reserve fund. The city will only cover the costs of its two departments, the recreation center and the drug task force.

Many of the building’s renovations were funded through Community Development Block Grants that Head Start and Tiny Twisters received. The TRIP center is also in the process of applying for one of those grants to fund its renovations.

For Alpers, moving the recreation department into the community center made sense for a number of reasons. It gives her more space and is right next to the middle school, which makes it easier for kids to walk there for the after-school program or to use the game and activity rooms.

In the new space, Alpers will have an office, a game room, an activity room for the after-school program, and a room for dance and exercise classes. She will also have access to the gym for Biddy Basketball, but will also continue to use the old gym. The extra space will allow the recreation center to have multiple activities going on at once, Alpers said.

“I can have a ballet class going and an archery (class) and open game room all going on at the same time, which I cannot do right now,” she said.

When Head Start reopens from the Christmas break on Wednesday, classes will be at the new community center. The program has 36 students in the regular program and 20 in the early Head Start program, which is a home-visit based program. It will have three classrooms in the new community center as well as office space.

On Friday, teachers were setting up the classrooms with miniature chairs and tables, high chairs, and boxes of books and toys. The program was previously located at Saint Paul Parish with a year-to-year lease. Julie Sackett, director of the Head Start programs, said the biggest benefit of the move is co-locating with the other services, but she is grateful to Saint Paul for providing a space for so many years.

“We’re really looking forward to working with these other programs in this space, and we hope that that’s going to serve the families well,” she said.

There is no concrete time in place for when the TRIP Center or the drug task force will move into the building. TRIP is waiting on grant money and the task force is in transition, as its director is stepping down.

Both groups will help complete the transformation into a multi-purpose community center. Seniors will be able to attend classes at the recreation center, or perhaps see plays put on by children in the stage at the gym. Moving the drug task force to the community center will make it more visible to parents, who will pass it when they come to pick up their kids, hopefully increasing its use.

Although the work isn’t done, several people involved say the benefits of the community center are already apparent. Repurposing the school made something positive out of the controversial decision to close, Mayor Ken Merrifield said, and Dragon deserves much of the credit.

“It would’ve been a lot easier for her to just let the building remain vacant and not tackle this project, but true to form she thought the community would be better served making use of the building, so she pulled together a lot of different groups and activities to make this successful,” he said.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or
kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @kronayne.)

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