By EC Barrett
The Brooktondale Community Center (BCC) was founded in the 1960s, and continues to serve not only Brooktondale, but all of Caroline and close neighbors in Danby, Dryden and the Town of Ithaca. Currently, the center is undergoing a revitalization project as the all-volunteer Board of Directors takes on capital improvements and reintroducing the Center to the community.
It will welcome communities to take advantage of the revitalization and explore the BCC’s offerings with a Summer Celebration event Aug. 27. The event begins with a BBQ, music and games at 5 p.m. and will switch over to popcorn and movies projected on the freshly painted back wall of the center at dusk.
The BBC was founded after the death of two local teenagers in the early 1960s. That motivated community members to create a space focused on youth recreation. In the decades since, the center has expanded to two buildings, and while maintaining an emphasis on youth activities, has become a versatile meeting and event space. “Each building serves a variety of functions,” said board co-chair Barry Adams. “A toddler play group utilizes the main building and the playground behind it and the Caroline Seniors hold their monthly dish-to-pass here. We have an annual Halloween spook house, a popular six-week summer camp and various civic activities, such as the Meet the Candidates nights sponsored by the League of Women Voters.”
Both buildings have kitchen facilities, dining areas and meeting spaces available for free for community meals and events, and for rent for private parties, meetings and food preparation activities. The truck bay of the old fire hall, purchased by the center when the Brooktondale Fire Company moved to new facilities, provides the space for the Caroline Food Pantry’s bi-weekly distribution of food to area residents. “The BCC’s donation of space for receipt, storage and dispensing of food is invaluable to the service of the pantry to the community, which provides food to some 100 local families, serving around 300 individuals, including children,” said board member and pantry liaison Martin Hatch. The truck bay also houses the weekly Farmers Market on Tuesday evenings from June through September.
Even with all of this activity, board members see the potential for expanding the services offered by the BCC and hope that updating the appearance and functionality of the center will not only increase community enjoyment but bolster efforts at recruiting more regular use of the facilities, such as attracting an after-school program or daycare. “The main building is being painted, outside and in,” said Adams. “The outside will feature a mural by local artist Mary Beth Ihnken, who has done a great deal of public art in and around Ithaca. Her design features the famous Brooktondale railroad trestle, as well as the mill that was consumed by a practice burn just before the community center was built.”
As well as updating the look of the center, a large covered pavilion is currently in the planning stages with a tentative groundbreaking this fall. The new pavilion will house the Farmers Market, provide a space for outdoor musical events and parties, and give parents a comfortable space from which to watch their children on the soon-to-be rebuilt playground.
Board members have been planning and fundraising to remove and replace the aging play structures behind the main building over the last few years. One purpose of the Summer Celebration is to gather community input about design as well as types of equipment.
“This event is a celebration and recognition of all the work that has been done in and around the BCC buildings,” said board co-chair Carol Barra. “We want to engage the broader area community in participating in our next big project — the re-designed and revitalized playground. We will be asking attendees to take a couple of minutes to respond to a questionnaire aimed at soliciting ideas for the new playgrounds.”
Board members hope to involve the community in the construction phase as well, utilizing volunteer labor to decrease costs. “As a not-for-profit organization, we are heavily reliant on financial donations from the public and fund-raising projects like the annual Apple Festival, as well as significant support from United Way of Tompkins County,” said Adams. But the final push for the playground, depending on concept and design will require a community-wide effort.
The Summer Celebration event is free and open to the public and will be held rain or shine, moving indoors to the main BCC event space in the event of rain. For more information visit www.brooktondalecc.org.
By EC Barrett