by Mary Rupert
A letter from a second-grade Girl Scout troop last February to City Hall started the process that will result in an old Piper grade school being turned into a community recreation center.
“We are the 2nd grade Brownie Girl Scouts Troop 247 from Piper Elementary,” the letter stated. “This year we have been focusing on connecting as a community and have also made a healthy living commitment. We have noticed that we do not have a community center in Piper.”
The Girl Scouts said they would like to have a place to exercise and go to classes and other events, such as birthday parties. They offered to help by making posters, planting flowers around the community center property, asking neighbors for support and letting neighbors know that the city had helped connect the community.
The letter eventually found Unified Government Commissioner Mike Kane, who represents the 5th District and Piper area. He said he would work on the idea.
“One thing we don’t do is listen to the kids as much as we should,” Kane said. After he started working on the project, everything started falling into place, he added.
While Piper didn’t have a community center, it did have an old elementary school building, Piper West, not being used as a school. The old school is near 123rd and Leavenworth Road. Most recently, the building has been used for church services by the Village Community Church.
The school’s gym will become a community recreation gym, and some of the wings will hold community classes, according to Kane. Senior citizens groups including a breakfast program, are on the drawing board, along with meeting space for youth groups and clubs. If all goes according to plan, it will be open by next fall.
“This is going to fill a need out here for a long time,” Kane said.
Current plans are for the older part of the Piper West Elementary building, a brick building, to remain closed, as it is too expensive to renovate, according to Piper spokeswoman Kelly Kultala.
Some other wings will be used for early childhood education classrooms and administrative offices. Restrooms in the building will have to become handicapped-accessible in the renovation.
No bond money will be required for the renovation project, and it will not affect taxes, Kultala said. She said some of the funding will come from half of the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes funds from the Parallel Plaza shopping center to the Piper district. Part of the Hollywood Casino contribution to the Piper school district also will be used on the renovation project. While the Piper district is experiencing growth in enrollment, there was not a lot of community support for building a new school currently to accommodate that growth, but there is support for renovation.
Also, the 5th District’s community neighborhood funds approved in this past UG budget will be going toward the project. A total of $420,000 will be coming from this fund to the project in 2013 and 2015, Kane said.
Kane said the new community center in Piper should be similar to the community recreation centers in other parts of the community, such as Eisenhower Recreation Center. The gyms and classes are open to the public, and have open community hours.
Four old kindergarten rooms in the Piper West school will become early education classrooms in the Piper district pre-kindergarten program, Kultala said. If a fifth classroom is needed, the district will change its plans to put a new board room nearby, she added.
Doors to this part of the building will be locked for security reasons and blocked off, and there will be different entrances for the different uses of the building.
Also, Piper district offices will move from an older administration building into an area of the Piper West building that was formerly a library and is sometimes currently used as a polling place.
There are also plans for sidewalks to be extended from the new Piper school campus to the recreation center building, and also plans for walking trails.
Kane is looking forward to the opening of the community center.
“This will give everybody a place to go and something to do,” he said. “It’s just a good deal to come up with something for the school district and city.”
And, he added, “My grandbaby’s going to be able to use this building.”