Accessibility to the village office was one the major improvements of the new Gays Mills Community Commerce Center, the current and former village presidents agreed.
“One of the biggest advantages of the building is that the village office has become more accessible,” said Craig Anderson, the current Gays Mills village president. “We’re now meeting the requirement for handicap accessibility. That’s particularly important because we have a large elderly population. It’s certainly much easier to access the new office than the previous office (located) up the stairs.”
For his part, Larry McCarn, the former Gays Mills village president agreed. “Easy access” to the office was a major improvement of the new building. McCarn readily acknowledged it was “a bad thing before having (to negotiate) that staircase” to get to the office.
McCarn also saw the bigger library and beautiful big meeting room as distinct advantages of the new building. The former village president, who is somewhat sensitive to mold and airborne allergens, also believes the air quality has vastly improved in the new building.
Anderson is hoping the accessibility and visibility of the new village office may result in a dividend of getting people more interested and involved in local government.
Like McCarn, Anderson is happy to see an expanded library space. Until his election as village president last spring, Anderson served as president of the library board.
“It’s a definite improvement for the library,” Anderson confirmed. “There’s 50 percent more shelf space, so the collection can be increased by 50 percent. The old library was at capacity. Bringing anything new into the collection meant something had to come out.”
The village president is happy with the message he believes the Community Commerce Center is sending about the importance of libraries. He believes libraries are an essential part of the community.
“This new library is saying libraries are not luxury or a fringe or a frill,” Anderson said. “Opportunity is more and more information related. Access to information is the key determining factor in your ability to find opportunity.”
Anderson, like McCarn, is also very impressed with the large and handsome community room in the Gays Mills Community Commerce Center. The room can seat over 300 people in theater-style seating and includes a portable stage. The room can also seat 175 diners at 30 round tables.
“Having a community room like this encourages events and interactions among people,” Anderson noted. “It allows people to come together to celebrate personal and family events or public events. It’s hard to be a community, if you can’t get together.”
Both McCarn and Anderson are impressed by the shared-use kitchen, known as the Kickapoo Culinary Center, housed in the Community Commerce Center.
“The kitchen is all about a quest for economic development,” Anderson explained. “Our village, like many small towns in America, is struggling to rebuild its economy. The economic reason for our existence no longer exists in many ways with the decline of (family) dairy farming.”
Anderson believes the village and other small towns must try to re-invent their economic purpose and the shared-use kitchen is an attempt to do that.
McCarn also sees the kitchen and the entire relocation effort as an effort to “encourage growth here.” The former village president admitted that he sometimes wondered if the relocation plans would become a reality.
“I guess you saw what it was supposed to be and you always wondered if it would really come to pass,” McCarn said. “Sometimes, you saw it as a dream that you thought maybe was just too far-fetched to become reality.”
Anderson sounded a note of caution about the road forward for the village. He noted that the village is taxed to its capacity with the relocation projects.
“Towns and cities grow over a long period of time,” Anderson noted. “Here, we are kick-starting the future. The project takes a huge amount of effort and attention on our part that taxes the capacity of the village.”
Despite the daunting task of managing the ongoing relocation project, Anderson, like McCarn, seems optimistic about he village’s future.
“I am grateful to the state and federal government for their investment in the future of our village,” Anderson said. “Their investment recognizes that we have a future and they saw our future as important enough to invest in it. Of course, their doing so challenges local government and village residents to actively create that future.”
Both Anderson and McCarn seem to think Gays Mills is up to that challenge.