Civic Center agreement reached

Jeffrey Hage / Union-Eagle Princeton American Legion Post Commander Jerry Whitcomb, left, presents a $35,000 check to Princeton Mayor Paul Whitcomb for the first installment of a $100,000 payment that will help renovate the Princeton Civic Center as well as make the civic center the home of the Legion post.

Jeffrey Hage / Union-Eagle
Princeton American Legion Post Commander Jerry Whitcomb, left, presents a $35,000 check to Princeton Mayor Paul Whitcomb for the first installment of a $100,000 payment that will help renovate the Princeton Civic Center as well as make the civic center the home of the Legion post.

The interrupted renovation of Princeton’s civic center along Fifth Avenue North should resume soon because of an agreement the city has reached with Woodcock Herbst American Legion Post 216.
Legion Post Commander Jerry Whitcomb on Monday signed the agreement, which requires the post to give the city $100,000, divided into three payments ending June 1. The payments are to be used by the city to continue the remodeling work to the point where the civic center will be usable by the post.
The post will be guaranteed use of the center five days per month during the 30 year-lease without having to pay the normal rent, except when the usage exceeds the five days in a month. The post’s normal use will be its regular monthly business meetings, which are the second Thursday of each month except for June when it is the second Tuesday; its monthly dance on the fourth Thursday except for December; its omelet breakfast each third Sunday of the month September-April except December; and the scholarship fundraiser lunch the last Friday of April. Any modification of these guaranteed usage times will have to be in writing.
If the Legion post wants to rent the civic center other times, it will have to pay the standard rent and reserve it like everyone else on a first-come, first-served basis. The city is responsible for all utility and operating costs, snow removal and lawn care as well as full maintenance of the building and its components.
Tenants, including the Legion, are responsible for post-usage custodial duties that include but not limited to vacuuming and cleaning of floors and restrooms. The city is responsible for a professional cleaning service to coming in on a regular basis for  more thorough cleaning.
“I feel OK about it,” Commander Whitcomb said last week. “We had our attorney look at it and the city had its attorney. I think it will work well.”
Whitcomb even agreed to be re-elected as commander again this spring to see the project through of adopting the civic center as the new post home. This will be Whitcomb’s 11th year as commander of the Legion post.
Some months ago the idea had come up of the Legion also using the civic center as a gathering spot for veterans to have coffee during times other than when the Legion post would normally use the building.
Asked about that last week, Whitcomb said, “We’re not going to do that.” He explained that doing so would mean someone having to be there during those times and that he doesn’t have that time to spend there.
The Legion post does plan to have a small outbuilding placed on, or constructed on, the lot where the civic center sits to store Legion equipment. The Legion post will have some of its signs on the outside and inside of the civic center.
Legion post members voted 15-11 for negotiating the contract. Whitcomb acknowledged the dissension in having the civic center be the Legion post’s new home. But he reasoned that the post has to make some kind of move because “we don’t know about whether the VFW (Club that the Legion has been meeting at) will make it or if it will shut it down.”
Whitcomb also mentioned the $5,000 monthly rent the Legion has been paying to be in the VFW club building.
Whitcomb also noted that some Legion members don’t want to go through the situation that occurred a few years ago when the restaurant operator previously in the building where Steven’s Restaurant is currently operating, closed up and left town. Whitcomb said the Legion got a notice one night of the closing and is thankful that VFW Commander Loren Papesh agreed to allow the Legion to conduct its activities after that in the VFW club.
The Legion post originally owned the building that Steven’s Restaurant is in; the post actually had it built just for the Legion. After some years the membership, seeing financial difficulties in continued ownership of it, sold the building.
City Administrator Mark Karnowski said last week that he was “cool” with the language in the agreement, which at that point had not yet been signed.
A large amount of renovation has been done at the old civic center in the past few years. The city led the renovation project, promoting the idea of community participation. While the city put in some city funds and in-kind work from its Public Works employees, much of the materials and labor has been either donated or provided by contractors and others at a discount.
Among the work done so far is a new roof, exterior repair, new windows and a redoing of the interior roof trusses so that when finished the main room will have a vaulted ceiling. But the ceiling has not been finished because of heating and air quality work remaining to be done. The kitchen also has to rebuilt.
Already, one couple had hoped that they could rent the civic center for their wedding because the couple likes the field-stone fireplace inside the building. Most of the structure has half-log siding and was completed in the 1950s as a sportsmans club building that the city eventually took over.
During the past few decades the structure slowly went into disrepair and the senior nutrition program that had been operating in it moved out. The city eventually closed it and began heading up the renovation project.

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