Residents to pitch in to repair center
The aging Port Aransas Community Center and surrounding property will undergo an historic facelift within the next several months, if plans go as some community groups hope
Volunteers are planning to extensively refurbish the 58-year-old building's exterior and do $25,000 worth of landscaping around it. This is in addition to an already-announced campaign by the Port Aransas Preservation and Historical Association to raise enough money to move the historic Mercer House onto the Community Center property and turn the house into a museum and office for PAPHA.
All of these changes could come before the end of the year.
"I think this will give us an opportunity to have, at a central location, a lot of the history of Port Aransas," said Charlie Zahn, chairman of Port Aransas Boatmen, Inc., which is helping lead the effort to fix up the Community Center building. "I also think it will give us the opportunity to … preserve an architectural period in our city that is rapidly diminishing as we see development come into town."
Built in 1949 , the Community Center has been the site of thousands of functions over the years, serving as a place for everything from family reunions to polling places during elections. In the immediate aftermath of the devastating Hurricane Celia in 1970, Port Aransans congregated at the Community Center to obtain clean drinking water and other emergency help.
The Boatmen's organization is joining with the City of Port Aransas to refurbish the Community Center building.
After hearing a presentation from Boatmen Chairman Charlie Zahn, the Port Aransas City Council voted unanimously on Thursday, May 17, to go ahead with a plan for city government to provide materials for the refurbishing, while Boatmen supply labor.
Workers will remove all of the building's exterior wood siding, which has deteriorated. The old wood will be replaced with fiber cement siding. Windows, which have been leaking, will be removed and reset. The project also will mean rebuilding the porch at the front door.
Zahn said the refurbishing effort will take place over a period of about three days. No specific dates have been set, but Zahn said he expects it to take place beginning on a Saturday in September.
Organizers are planning to make the project a community-wide effort. Zahn said labor will be provided in part by volunteer Boatmen members themselves. Boatmen also are seeking contractors who will donate their services. Boatmen already have heard from some contractors who said they will pay their workers to get in on the act.
Zahn said he is hoping that suppliers of construction materials will donate materials or provide them at reduced costs.
A job like the one planned at the Community Center normally would run up a bill in the tens of thousands of dollars, but organizers plan to keep costs far below that total.
Zahn said he also is hoping local restaurants will get in the act by serving free meals to workers as they toil on the site. Perhaps entertainment and a street dance also could become part of the three-day event, he said.
"We'd like to make it (an event) in Port Aransas that we all can be proud of," Zahn told the city council.
Tom Dasch, a Port Aransas contractor who will be coordinating work on the project, said the Community Center's skeleton, roof and foundation appear to be in good shape.
Less than a year ago, the Community Center building's future was in question. Last year, a draft of the city's master facilities plan included language that called for the possible construction of a new multi-purpose building that would include a library, computer center, meeting space and offices for parks and recreation administration.
The construction would have taken place on the lot where the Community Center is now, said Port Aransas City Manager Michael Kovacs. That would have meant demolishing or moving the old building, he said. However, before approving the master facilities plan, the city council deleted those plans for the multi-purpose building. As approved, the document is silent about the Community Center property.
The Port Aransas Garden Club is planning a $25,000 landscaping project for the grounds around the Community Center building. Garden Club members will volunteer their time to do the landscaping, said Kathy Reynolds, co-president of the Garden Club.
The city's Parks and Recreation Department has approved the landscaping plan and will tear out the old vegetation, Reynolds said.
The landscaping will begin behind the Community Center building. That part of the project might take place this summer, Reynolds said. Landscaping in front won't begin until after the refurbishing work on the building is done, she said.
Landscaping will include a yard filled with St. Augustine grass; two new circular walkways made from crushed granite; a sprinkler system; a water fountain; and several wooden benches with arbors built above them, Reynolds said. Workers also will plant a variety of new bushes and trees. No decisions have been made on what kinds, Reynolds said.
Beth Dasch, on the Garden Club's landscape committee, drew up the design for the landscaping project.
The future look of the Community Center grounds hinges largely on whether PAPHA is successful in raising the money to move the venerable Mercer House from its current location at Oleander and Bujan, slightly more than one-tenth of a mile from the Community Center.
PAPHA has been working for months to raise at least $30,000 to move the Mercer House, also known as the Sears House. As of Tuesday, May 22, the organization had raised about $24,000, including grants of $10,000 and $2,500, said Betty Bundy, chair of the PAPHS grant writing team.
If it isn't moved, the Mercer House likely will be torn down to make room for a planned townhouse development. The developer has offered to give the building to PAPHA on the condition that it is moved off the property. PAPHA has been given a deadline in August.
Built in the early 1900s, the Mercer house has been documented in a survey as one of two most significant historical structures remaining in Port Aransas, along with the Tarpon Inn.
Bundy said she is confident PAPHA will raise enough money to move the house before the deadline.
"We've got a lot of … interest out there," Bundy said. "And we've got a lot of people working on it."
To contribute to the Mercer House cause, call Bundy at 749-3406 or write to the Port Aransas Preservation and Historical Association, P.O. Box 677, Port Aransas, Texas, 78373.