The Stillwater Community Center is a complex of buildings dating from the 1930s – 1970s that provides flexible space for meetings, performances and community events for a long list of organizations. Its various buildings were all completed long before the Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990 and it shows.

But the Stillwater Community Center Foundation is trying to do something about that. using a combination of grant funding and assistance from the City of Stillwater.

The City has owned and operated the Community Center, the former Stillwater Junior High School, since 1991.

Although attempts have been made over the years to accommodate people with mobility challenges by installing handicapped parking spaces, the Community Center, which the SCCF says has an estimated 100,000 threshold crossings a year, only has a handful of handicapped spaces and most are not conveniently located near entrances.

There is no accessible entrance on the south side of the building, forcing people who want to enter the Lowry Activity Center or the dining hall to park around the corner and go around the block, mostly outdoors, to get where they are going.

It’s been a problem for people like foundation Vice-chairman Dr. Gerrit Cuperus, who called it “quite an ordeal” when he had to be helped back to his parking spot around the corner after voting.

Natalea Watkins, an active part of Stillwater’s non-profit organizations for many years, said she was part of an accessibility advisory board created by the City of Stillwater about 15 years ago to evaluate city facilities. She has used a power chair for the past 20 years.

She underscored the value Stillwater gets from having a facility that is adaptable for a variety of events and is affordable for non-profits.

“I really believe that making this facility that already exists in our community accessible to everyone – and I’ve been that one that’s circled the block this way then come back around … to be able to get to the cafeteria then come back around to come in the next session that was down the hall – and I just believe that this makes so much sense,” Watkins said.

The Stillwater Community Center Foundation worked with a group of architecture and mechanical engineering students from Oklahoma State University to do a study of the building and to develop ideas for making it more accessible.

Under the plan proposed Monday, traffic flow through the parking lot would be reversed to provide a safe drop-off spot and the south entrance would be reworked. Building a system of steps and ramps and installing a canopy would provide more comfort and easier access for all while connecting the main building and the dining hall.

It would benefit operations and make it easier to move equipment, SCCF Board Chairman Jim Beckstrom said. 

It would also greatly improve the appearance of the building, Vice-Mayor Pat Darlington noted approvingly.

The total cost for the project is expected to be about $302,000, Beckstrom explained. The foundation is providing $50,000 toward the project. Another local foundation has pledged $50,000 and given a commitment for an additional $75,000 in matching funds.

The foundation has already raised $11,000 toward that match in two weeks, he said.

“We’re making a run toward getting this thing fully funded,” Beckstrom told the City Council.

He asked the councilors to agree in principal to work with the foundation on the project and to authorize in-kind support from the City of Stillwater’s electric utility, which would relocate electric lines and poles at an estimated cost of $40,000.

The City Council agreed and the project will now move into the engineering and design phase.

Beckstrom said the foundation hopes to get the project done this year.

“Sooner is better,” he said.

Twitter: @mcharlesNP

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