The Goodland Community Center has seen a lot of drama and use since being donated by the Marco Island Fire District to the Goodland Civic Association (GCA) in 1992. Through good times and bad it has served as a forum for Goodland residents to voice their hopes, aspirations, disappointments, and fears for the community. It is also widely used to host popular community events, such as fitness classes and craft workshops. There were even kids’ karate classes held there last year. The Goodland Arts Alliance meets there monthly, having no building of their own. And of course, it is the primary gathering place for all of the GCA’s meetings and activities. On every third Tuesday, from October through April, residents can partake of a delicious potluck supper, participate in a town meeting, and sit in on a board meeting, all on the same night, in the same place. Most importantly, it is the venue for our two popular pancake breakfasts, which last year raised over $5K for the GCA. There’s a lot that goes on in that building.
Through it all, the GCA has paid the bills which maintain the Center and keep it going. At times it has been a struggle. Some have asked what the GCA does with all the money we take in. Last fiscal year which was one of our best, we took in $12,716, which was a combination of fundraisers, building rentals, and sales of t-shirts and flags. All of this involved a lot of planning and work by our members. To raise this kind of money and maintain our building, we had expenses of $12,133. The biggest chunk of this, $6,444, was directly attributable to the maintenance and insurance for the Center. This year however, due in large part to Hurricane Irma, we are already showing a net loss of $3,700, the bulk going to building repair and maintenance (Still pending is a bid of $700 for additional repair of hurricane damage.) Additionally, our AC unit is creaking along and needs constant repair. Replacing it will be expensive.
Some have posited that this nearly $6,500 could be better used for the community if the GCA had a less expensive home. Two years ago, our board briefly considered such a move. Collier County (CC) was looking to have their own Emergency Services Building (EMS) building on the island. They felt that the Goodland Community Center would be an ideal building for this. Built originally as a firehouse, the Center already had two large bays for emergency vehicles with the possibility of living quarters upstairs (an area seldom used by the GCA). If the GCA would sell the Center to Collier County, the County would allow us to hold our meetings in the county- owned Margood Museum at no cost. The matter was discussed over the course of two board meetings but did not gain traction with the GCA board, most of whom wanted to cling to what we knew and loved. The Community Center, we said, gave us a degree of independence, which we didn’t want to relinquish.
Then, following Hurricane Irma, for the first time in memory, we were no longer able to meet at the Center. It was being used as an emergency distribution center and was almost completely filled with dry wall and other supplies which kept pouring in. For the next three months, meetings were shifted to the county’s Margood Park Museum. The meetings at the museum were packed with upwards of 50 stressed and anxious residents, plus leaders of organizations offering help in recovery. Everyone loved meeting there. The acoustics were good, more people could be seated, and all had a better view of each other and the speakers. The roughly half-moon seating arrangement seemed more intimate than the straight row seating at the Center. But In January, meetings resumed at the Center.
Now, some here in Goodland are again wondering why we don’t sell the Center, put the money in the bank, and move permanently into the Margood Museum. It would relieve the GCA of all maintenance costs and most of the insurance premiums which we now have to pay, thus relieving much of the pressure to raise that $12K+ each year. Theoretically we would only have to raise $6K to maintain the same level of services. The sale proceeds would add substantially to our reserves, which will soon have to be tapped for a new AC unit and roof and who knows what else. Plus, we would get a meeting space more conducive to inclusive participation by the members. Sounds pretty neat. It is likely to come up on the GCA agenda sooner or later.
But would this be a good move? If the only thing we used our Center for was to hold monthly town meetings it would be a no brainer, but during season, the Center is in almost constant use for other things. The Margood Museum would not be able to accommodate those other things during business hours, when it is open to the public. We would no longer be able to schedule most daytime events and meetings without clearing it with Parks and Rec first. We would lose a substantial degree of our independence. Shifting all operations to a public building is easier said than done.
On top of this, the County has not shown renewed interest in buying our building, nor are they likely to do so, pending a statewide referendum for August 28th. The referendum could result in Marco Island controlling its own ambulance service, obviating the need for another county EMS station here. It is hard to imagine a private buyer being interested in buying an old firehouse in Goodland.
Our village has always had an inordinate sense of pride in our community center. On a spit of land next to a fast growing metropolitan area, it is a symbol of our independence and a constant reminder that as long as that building stands, it will be the scene of our battles for a place in the sun. For myself, I love the old place and what goes on there. It may be worth the extra work and sacrifice to raise that extra $6,500 to keep it there.
Barry was a practicing attorney before he worked as a Special Agent of the FBI for 31 years. Barry worked for several government agencies another ten years before retiring to Goodland in 2006. Barry is presently the Secretary of the Goodland Civic Association.