New Project Has Unlimited Potential

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If you drive down State Street in Litchfield and aren't paying close attention, it may not look like much has changed in regards to the building that once housed the Litchfield Creamery. But just behind the red brick front, the start of a rebirth is taking place.

Crews from Glynn Demolition have been taking down the 103-year-old building, brick-by-brick in some cases, to make way for what one group of citizens hope is the first step in an overall change in health for Litchfield and the communities that surround it.

Months, if not years, in the making, a new recreation facility is in the works for the city of Litchfield, with the 501c3 group, Litchfield Unlimited Corporation, leading the charge.

"We are seeing more health issues because of weight today," said Mark Stieren, chairman of Litchfield Unlimited. "If we can get people more active and change that lifestyle, then maybe we can change the overall health of the whole community, mentally and physically."

Like the unseen work going on behind the wall at the demolition, Litchfield Unlimited has been diligent in figuring out how to make this long-time dream a reality for the city.

For the last several months, Stieren and fellow board members, Dan Stewart, Renee Wynn, Caitlin Magnuson, Shannon Simpson Hall, Dr. Tracy Painter, Jerry Cruthis, Jessica Ball, Marci Johnson and Chris Short, have been touring facilities and getting an idea of what the facility needs to best serve the people of Litchfield. 

Stieren himself estimates that he has seen 15 or so rec centers across the area, plus nine more in Colorado, where he attended a program with others looking to build facilities or improve facilities in their communities.

"We have a pretty good idea of what we think needs to be here. We have a shortage of gym space. So a gym is one of the core pieces that we need to have. A pool never pays for itself, but you have to have a pool to draw the interest," Stieren said. "You're going to have cardio, you're going to have a walking track, you're going to have weights, but to what scope? We don't know that piece yet."

To help fill in that piece of the puzzle, Litchfield Unlimited has hired Phil Balducci and Associates of Bradenton, FL, who have done market analysis on more than 350 recreational facilities across the country.

According to Stieren, Balducci came to Litchfield for two days to conduct focus groups and get a feel for what people in the community thought of Litchfield in general and what they might want in terms of a recreational facility.

With those group discussions complete, Balducci then conducted a feasibility study via phone, with plans to contact at least 400 potential users of the facility, from Litchfield and other nearby locales.

"We're looking at this as not a Litchfield facility, we're looking at this as a Montgomery and Macoupin County facility," Stieren said. "What we're looking to put up is bigger than Litchfield can sustain by itself."

Just how big the facility will be will be determined in part by the answers given in the feasibility study, as well as other factors, such as affiliation.

"We have looked at doing a partnership with a YMCA and I think the feasibility study will drive whether that needs to happen or not," Stieren said.

According to Stieren, the benefits of going with the YMCA brand, which would be a branch of the Springfield or Edwardsville location, would be name recognition off the bat. With Litchfield's economic development efforts, the presence of a recreation center and familiarity with the YMCA name would be a big positive for businesses looking to relocate.

Other benefits also include shared leadership, which could shrink administrative costs, and ready-made programs such as classes, youth camps and day camps, things for which the YMCA already has a model in place.

The day camps, which are geared toward students in kindergarten through sixth grade during the summer, could benefit working families in the area in particular.

"When we visited the YMCAs, all of them talked about their day camps," Stieren said. "It gets kids off the couch for half a day."

The feasibility study also has the potential to tell the group that this might not work after all, something Stieren doubts will happen, but is prepared for nonetheless.

"The worst case scenario is that the feasibility study comes back and says that we're nuts and it can't sustain itself. If that happens, we accomplished removing a derelict property," he said. "Maybe we don't end up with a rec facility, but maybe we end up with a soccer field or a ball field. We won't quit just because this one isn't feasible. We'll use that site for something else."

They should have a better idea of what to expect when the results are back from the study in late July and early August. After that, Litchfield Unlimited will hire an architect, with conceptual drawings expected by mid-September. If all goes well, ground could be broken by this time next year.

"That's pretty aggressive. If everything falls in order, we'd like to be open in November of 2021," Stieren said. "That requires a lot of things to fall in place pretty quickly, but that's our goal."

One of those things that need to fall into place is fundraising, which is expected to start in September or October. While some grants and trusts could be providing some of the money, donations from community members and businesses are still going to be needed to make the project happen. And the longer it takes to get the funding, the longer it will take to complete the project.

Until then, demolition continues, with much of the materials being recycled, something that cut costs and limited the project's environmental footprint by taking less to the landfill.

All of the steel will be recycled, with the structural steel cut into sections and put in one trailer and the scrap steel put in another. That includes two boilers in the plant, which required a pair of backhoes to maneuver into position.

Most of the brick has already been recycled, sold and shipped away from its previous home for more than a century. Some went to Louisiana, while other shipments went to Dallas, where the old "St. Louis red" brick is in demand.

Copper wire and other metals are also being removed from the old creamery to be given new life somewhere else.

Some of the concrete though, will stay right where it's at. Stieren said the group is speaking with area contractors who can grind the footings down to make a rock base for the future construction.

While the project has reduced the environmental impact to the city, it has increased the economic impact. Glynn Demolition's crews have been staying in Litchfield hotels for nearly three months and other area businesses such as Sarco Hydraulics Sales and Service, DC Waste and Recycling, Sloan Implement and trucking companies have also been utilized in the demolition.

It all goes along with Litchfield Unlimited's goal of creating something beneficial to the community - economically, mentally and especially, physically.

The demolition of the creamery building is step one, but the best is still to come.

To keep up to date with Litchfield Unlimited, go to www.facebook.com/LitchfieldUnlimited.

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