PARIS — The town of Paris will have a community center open for residents and organizations hopefully by spring, thanks to a donation from the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church to the Paris Public Library.
The community center will be located at the former Deering Memorial United Methodist Church at 39 Main St., on the corner of Church Street. The proposal came about at the end of October 2016 when the church’s trustees approached library officials.
“They’ve had it on the market and they decided they would rather see it belong to the community so they made us an offer of us buying it for a dollar and us paying the closing costs,” said Library Director Mike Dignan. “We think it’s a great opportunity for the town. … It is almost 6,000 square feet.”
The library’s trustees and Dignan envision the community center as a space for concerts, meetings, children’s programs, special events and fundraisers.
“We get calls here all the time [asking,] ‘Do we have space for this? Do we have space for that?’ And we don’t have the space,” Dignan said, noting the library’s space is mainly occupied by its 40,000-title collection of books, DVDs and the like. “I know a lot of people already want to hold concerts in the place. … It is a great venue for concerts and speakers.”
The library took over stewardship of the church on Jan. 6. But the generosity for the library – which is a nonprofit – did not stop there.
“We received an anonymous $5,000 donation to pay for the cost of getting the church and operating expenses for the short-term,” Dignan said. “A local entertainer said he will throw a free concert for us to help fundraise.”
He added the vast majority of the library’s funding comes from the town of Paris. And this current fiscal year, the library had $18,000 cut from its expenses.
“The goal, of course, is not to have any town funding into supporting the church,” Dignan said. “We’re hoping to do everything – local fundraising – to support it so it’s not to burden the town. It’s to be a benefit to the town.”
He added the library’s trustees have a meeting today, Thursday, Jan. 19, to discuss logistics for the community center. Dignan’s goal is not to use library employees to staff the community center since he does not want to put any further stress on the library’s operations.
“My guess it’s going to be like an honor system. It’s like borrowing a book – you’re borrowing the building,” he said, adding people would have agree to certain criteria in looking after the building.
Another topic to be discussed includes the work that needs to be done to the historic building, which in more than 100 years old.
“We had the building evaluated by our contractor. They said it is in good condition for its age. It does need some work,” Dignan said.
This includes roof work, which is not insulated, and is a reason why members of the then 30-person congregation opted to put the building on the market near the end of 2015. Dignan added the trustees will examine finding a better heating system, as currently it is forced hot air with three oil furnaces.
“It is a big building. It takes a lot to heat that,” Dignan said, adding he is thankful the oil tanks are nearly full. But even so, the fuel won’t last through the winter.
The plan is to apply for grants to pay for the work. And trustees have to decide whether or not they want to do the work first or open the community center and do the work simultaneously.
“We’re figuring all this out. … It would be spring before we started making it available,” Dignan said. “It is a great opportunity, not just for us. There’s lots of groups we hope will take advantage of it as soon as we get organized.”
And to help groups and residents take advantage of the building, an open house to showcase the new community center will be held from 1-3 p.m. Saturday, March 25.
Deering Memorial United Methodist Church – also referred to as “the Stone Church” – was erected in 1911. It was built in the late Gothic Revival style by Ohio architects Sidney Rose Badgley and William Nicklas. The 300-seat church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.