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Community Center project puts Laurel on track for the future

LAUREL — The City of Laurel and the Laurel Community Center Committee are moving full steam ahead in their cooperative efforts to build a new community center in downtown Laurel.

The 20,550 square foot facility will feature an open area for large events, a senior center and social gathering room, city offices, meeting rooms, a kitchen, secured storage rooms, as well as be ADA compliant and haveample parking.

The estimated project cost is $4 million. Funds raised are being cared for in an account established specifically for the project by the Laurel Area Community Foundation, an affiliate of Nebraska Community Foundation.

“Plans are to incorporate railroad and agriculture related concepts into the building design and decor, showcasing Laurel’s pride in its rich heritage,” said Karen Harrington, Community Center Committee member.

The new “Function Junction” will be located on the corner of Cedar and 2nd Streets near Laurel’s historic railroad line. The City-owned facility will accentuate the east end of Laurel’s $2.6 million downtown revitalization project to be completed in 2021.

Laurel Economic Development Coordinator Chris Rasmussen said the facility will be a real asset to the community.

“The new community center will be an integral part of providing an exceptional first impression of Laurel when welcoming visitors to the community,” she said. “A variety of events at the community center will stimulate longterm economic development and community growth through the creation of jobs and a myriad of businesses and services. This is great news for Laurel and our surrounding area.”

The committee’s efforts have been met with generous financial support from community members.

In 2017, the committee worked with the city of Laurel to raise the matching funds required for a Civic and Community Center Financing Fund (CCCFF) planning grant. Over 20 individuals and businesses from the Laurel area made contributions, which ranged from $50 to as much as $1,000.

“Getting this project off the ground wouldn’t have been possible without our initial donors,” said committee member Karen Knudsen. “They put their trust in the process and it really paid off.”

Committee and community members rose to the challenge securing a $10,000 grant for the city. Portions of those funds were used to facilitate a community needs assessment, determine feasibility, and hire CMBA Architects for a professional comprehensive facility assessment of the current Laurel City Building, which includes city offices, city council chambers, an auditorium and senior center. In May 2019, CMBA prepared a plan to assist the City of Laurel and the Community Center Committee with a basic design and budget.

Knudsen said the wealth of knowledge gained from CMBA’s professional services has better positioned the committee to pursue new funding opportunities. Now, committee members are making headway in securing new grant funds for the project. In late March 2020, the city of Laurel and Community Center Committee were informed the city had been awarded a $562,000 CCCFF grant by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.

Laurel’s City Council has also voted to commit up to $500,000 for the new community center, less the cost of demolition of the City’s current facilities, in support of the project.

The city plans to move its municipal and economic development offices, council chambers, and senior center into the new facility.

The Laurel Community Center Committee with the assistance of the Laurel Area Community Foundation is now moving forward with a public campaign to raise funds for the project.

To date, personal donors and local businesses have committed $1,437,000.

“We’re elated to see this type of financial commitment and support from the Laurel community so early on in the capital campaign,” said Jim Gustafson, Nebraska Community Foundation director of advancement and gift planning.

“Having a sizeable amount of pledged funds already raised helps put Laurel in a better position to receive future grant awards,” said Jan Merrill, community planner for the Northeast Nebraska Department of Economic Development. “Many granters want to see evidence of local financial support for a project before giving out their funds. You’ve done your homework and are off to a great start,” said Merrill.

The community center campaign is going to be a large financial undertaking for the Laurel community. “We’re very optimistic about this project but recognize that we’ll need tremendous community support,” said committee member, Katie Christiansen.

Committee member Melissa Graham added, “We have a lot of hard work and fundraising ahead of us, but also know our community members take great pride in what we can accomplish together for the betterment of our community.”

“Pledges and donations of any amount will be accepted and are greatly appreciated,” said committee member, Keith Knudsen. “Your gift can be one-time or structured with monthly, quarterly, or annual payments for up to five years, providing options for personal and business financial giving. Special recognition will be given to those contributing $1,000 or more.”

Laurel Area Community Foundation and Community Center Committee member Jim Recob said this project is a real opportunity for area residents to make a big impact on the community.

“Very few opportunities like this have come along for my generation to make a major difference in the future of our community,” he said. “This capital campaign is a great opportunity for all of us ‘older folks’ to give back. The Laurel community has given us a lot of blessings over our lifetimes. At the same time, it’s a great opportunity for the younger generation to pay it forward to future generations. None of us can afford to pass up participating in this capital campaign. When approached to pledge, please be open-minded. We’re asking you to help shape the future of Laurel.”

Donations to the Laurel Community Center Project may be made online at: https://www.nebcommfound. org/give/laurel-area-communityfoundation-fund/. Be sure to select “Community Center Account” when making a contribution. Pledge/ donation forms are available at the Laurel Economic Development Office, located at 101 West 2nd Street.

For more information about the Laurel Community Center Project, please contact Laurel Economic Coordinator, Chris Rasmussen, at (402) 256-3112 or email her at laureled@