The recent donation of a barn and 13-acre parcel of land — contingent upon community support — has brought a proposed new community recreational facility for Islesboro much closer to reality.

For more than two years, Islesboro’s Community Center Committee has been investigating the feasibility of — and gathering support for — a centrally-located facility to benefit all ages and segments of the island’s population. Results of a recent Islesboro Comprehensive Plan Survey indicated islanders’ concern for the whole community’s recreational needs, and two separate boxholder surveys confirmed a strong interest in a community space for fitness, exercise and recreation. Community members from all walks of life voiced their willingness to help establish such a center, but one major question remained unanswered — where on the island could such a facility be located?

The committee found that none of the island’s existing facilities met the needs that had been established by the study group. The Kinnicutt Center, adjacent to Islesboro Central School, is presently available for community functions, but working around the school’s daily schedule and after-school activities can be difficult and, at times, impossible. Problems with other buildings included limited space, existing programs going on, or not being usable in colder months. A new facility, needless to say, would be expensive to build.

One prospect that was investigated was the Gilder property on Main Road. Late last year, committee member (and island PA) Edie Konesni approached property owner Richard Gilder, and was invited to submit a Committee proposal about a new community center on this site.

After hearing the proposal, Mr. Gilder gifted his 13-acre up-island barn property for a community center, with a proviso that the center be a nonprofit corporation and not part of the town’s inventory. With this gift in hand, the success of the center now depends entirely on volunteers and donations from community members. Gilder “would like to see the island prove its interest in and commitment to the project by contributing the necessary funds to convert the property into a viable center, and to operate the facility for several years.”

An ambitious capital campaign will begin to raise the $200,00 – $250,000 expected to convert the building and to cover the annual estimated $50,000 funding needed for operational costs. The Community Center Committee has disbanded in order to become a private, nonprofit entity charged with the center’s fundraising activities and operations. The Community Center’s Board of Directors includes Ed Girvin, Dudley Ladd, Charles Alexander, Edie Konesni, Lynn Hall, Kathleen Leach and Fred Thomas. The group is now incorporated and is working toward its nonprofit 501 (C) 3 status, which should be achieved within a few months. Gilder has made his gift contingent upon community support, and the transfer of the property must wait until this status has been attained.

There have been two public informational meetings thus far about the proposed center, with over 30 people in attendance at the first meeting in December. An open house at the Gilder barn was held on January 27. More than 10 percent of the year-round adult population have already specifically signed up for various volunteer tasks, and a group of young people is also active in the planning of the potential center. One group of volunteers is planning fund raising events and Bob Congdon is researching grants available for such projects. Other task forces include publicity, facilities, program, personnel, membership and maintenance.

Current renovation plans call for creating usable space for fitness and recreation activities, but will also include, without adding to the cost of retrofitting, space for counseling, physical therapy, social services, arts and crafts display, dance, theater, lectures and adult education classes. A kitchen, already in place, would make it possible for the center to be used for wedding receptions and other parties. The riding ring could also serve as an ice skating rink during the winter months, and the grounds provide trails for cross-country skiing and sites for picnic areas.

According to the Community Center’s Board of Directors, fitness equipment will be available to individuals and groups with instructor support by appointment. Group programs such as aerobics and yoga will be offered. Health education will be a priority at the new Center. The Board of Directors envisions that older members will be able to get together for social activities and fitness opportunities at a time that is convenient to them. They also hope to tie in with and expand the summer recreation program for the island’s youth population.

Some community members have expressed their concern that this new facility will not be able to support itself and could become a financial burden to the town. Peter Higginson, in a letter to the editor in the Islesboro Island News (Jan./Feb., `02), urged the board to “think long and hard about how you propose to cover your operating costs. Relying almost exclusively on volunteer help on a long-term basis is not realistic … you have to get a realistic plan to get the millstone of funding off your neck … I say this because if your operating cost estimates are accurate and you are really expecting the whopping estimated annual $50,000 to be met by users, then making it through the first year will be nothing short of a miracle.”

The Islesboro Community Center Board of Directors responded to Higginson saying “we haven’t taken on this task lightly. We have sought advice from experts on the island and from `away.’ We have queried community centers elsewhere in Maine to review their operations. We have posed the very same questions asked by concerned citizens, and have researched answers. Yes, this is a HUGE project. However, it is a project that is sorely needed for the physical, social, and mental health of our community. Having a strong, broad-based group of islanders working together gives us the opportunity to build a creative, workable solution for Islesboro.”

Special thanks to Brenda Craig of the Islesboro Island News for much of the information used in this article.