EARLY — When the City of Early acquired the white stone building at 419 Garmon Dr. from the Lions Club in 2014, it knew it was going to need some work.

Early city administrator Tony Aaron said that while the center has served as a voting location and is occasionally rented out for private use, the 60-year-old facility has a number of issues.

“The bathrooms are not ADA compliant,” Aaron said, referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act that mandates accessibility requirements for public facilities. “Structurally it was OK, but it was in poor repair.”

In 2003, Aaron said, a firm did a citywide master plan for Early and found that the city could benefit from a community center and meeting place. “Early never had that focal point for gatherings,” Aaron said.

“Every year it came up that we need some type of facility as a meeting place,” added Early mayor Dr. Robert Mangrum. “Of course, we’re not but 3,000 … population-wise, so obviously they weren’t talking about building a Brownwood Coliseum.”

Last summer, architecture firm Schwarz-Hanson presented the city with renderings for a new and improved community center, using the old building as a foundation for a larger, more versatile space.

Aaron said the city could have opted to gut the restrooms, gut the kitchens and revamp the current space for about $100,000. But he said the new, $1.2 million space will be much more functional, attractive and utilized than the current community center.

Aaron envisions everything from professional training sessions to farmers markets to reunions to movie nights to live music performances in the new community center, which will hold about 125 people inside with additional room on the premises.

“The other thing that we heard from a lot of people was, we need a place that can hold four or five hundred people,” Aaron said. “There is a need for that in the area, but the amount of events that we would have that would need four or five hundred people space is really not — we’re not in that market.

“When you have 15 or 20 people, you get lost in a big space,” he said.

Larry McConn, Early’s assistant city administrator, has been working closely with Schwarz-Hanson as their plans progress. “Kind of coordinating between the architect and whatever subs he would need to do the work,” McConn said.

Schwarz-Hanson is also responsible for the City and Rural Rides building in Brownwood. “It was basically a metal building that was the old skating rink,” McConn said, “and they turned it into that. They did a phenomenal job on that.”

McConn said the facility will be instrumental in the city’s tourism industry. “We’re centrally located to where people will come from Abilene, from Lampasas, from San Angelo,” he said. “We can get a huge area in here, and those little one-day trainings are perfect.”

Mangrum and McConn both said the new community center will create a positive first impression for Early when visitors come in from Highway 183. “It’s going to be something that the city can be proud of,” McConn said. “That’s the first thing people see when they drive in town when they come from Austin. It’s a way for Early to make a name for itself.”

Aaron said the center renovation will be financed with a 20-year note, with no further tax increases anticipated. “We’re issuing a combination bond,” Aaron said, “so we can pay, if we have surplus revenue in our water or sewer and we want to pay for it out of that, we’ve got that flexibility.”

Mostly, though, Aaron said the note will be paid with the five-cent property tax increase that took effect on Oct. 1 last year.

The Early City Council approved the project financing at a meeting last Tuesday evening. Aaron said the next step is to allow the architect to finalize its design and blueprints, then open the bidding process to contractors.

“We’re saying probably about a 10 to 12 month construction time,” Aaron said. “We’re looking around next year, 2018, hopefully late winter or early spring.”

Construction is set to begin within the next several months.

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FUTURE PLANS

THE ISSUE: The City of Early will renovate its Community Center in a $1.2 million project.

THE IMPACT: Early property tax increased 5 cents last October. New community center will hold parties up to about 150 people and be used for a wide variety of events.