Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the number of visitors during the open house, the size of the facility and the designation of one of the rooms.
For the first time — ever — Sterling will have a common place for its community to gather indoors.
“It’s a gathering place. In the old days we always had those places,” Donna Brown said.
The Sterling resident and more than 350 others filtered through Sterling’s new $1.3 million community center during its open house Saturday. In the gym, children bounced in inflatable castles, kicked soccer balls and ran around.
The more than 12,000-square-foot Sterling Community Center has been more than 10 years in the making, said Bob Oakes, president of the Sterling Community Club and a former contractor.
The center houses a gym, library/conference room, two locker rooms and a kitchen equipped to serve banquets.
Brown and Oakes agree: the center is a major addition to the community.
“You go to other communities, like Skagway, and they had a place. It’s a common place,” Brown said.
A common place will keep children “off the streets” and give adults a place to congregate, Oakes said. It will also likely draw visitors driving through, Brown said.
Alaska State Senator Cathy Giessel, who also attended the center’s open house, said it will bring money to Sterling. She said she expects banquets and conferences to rent the gym.
“These folks put a lot of thought into what the community needs would be,” Giessel said.
That was the goal, Oakes said, while giving a tour — it is a place for toddlers, children and adults.
The building centers around the directing office. It has windows that open to the recreation room, gym, hallway to the kitchen and locker rooms, and lobby, he said. It also houses 32 cameras and a loud speaker system.
Through one window is the gym. The gym can house up to 400 people, he said, with room for a stage. He anticipates holding fundraisers, banquets and conferences, he said.
Currently, the gym echoes badly, he said, but the center is selling wall space for businesses to hang banners. That will reduce the noise and make the center money, he said.
Snap Lock installed the gym floor, he said. Its floors reduce impact in falls and each 1-foot floor section can be replaced if damaged.
The far gym wall will also carry a roughly 200-inch projection screen when the center is entirely complete.
Through the far left window in the directing room is the game room. Two ping pong tables, one foosball table, six computers and a bathroom are in the room. The short hallway to the bathroom at the end of the game room also leads to the hockey rink, he said.
Through another window in the directing room, past the foyer, is a concession stand. Teenagers in the community will run it, he said. The center will stock the stand with food and snacks, and the teens can keep half the profits from each sale.
“It will give them a sense of ownership,” he said.
Down the hallway from the concession stand is the kitchen. The kitchen contains a double-door oven bought from Subway, two convection ovens, a deep fryer, a flat grill, two more ovens, six sinks, an industrial dishwasher, an ice maker and three-door refrigerator, and steamers to keep food warm.
“We’re trying to make it so we can cook for 500 people with out any problems. That’s our goal,” he said.
The center also contains 10,000-gallons of water storage space for its sprinkler system, a storage room and two locker rooms for out-of-town students visiting Sterling for school games.
“When they have regions down here, everything fills up fast,” he said.
The locker room will allow visiting students to change and shower and then sleep in the gym during away games.
Oakes said construction would not have been possible without local support. Because of discounts and volunteer help the center cost about $100 per square foot, he said. The club spent less than $13,000 for all dirt work, he said.
“It’s a lot of volunteers, a lot of companies investing in this building,” he said.
And it is going to be a great addition to the community, Donald Dysert said.
The Sterling resident watched his two children play in the gym during the open house. He said the center is much larger than it looks from outside.
“Not all of them are able to get out to Soldotna all the time,” Dysert said about the Soldotna Sports Center. His community’s center will give his children something else to do in the winter without having to drive far.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.