The Underwood Community Council will soon finalize their merger with the Underwood Park and Recreation District, completing a years-long effort to secure a steady revenue stream for the Underwood Community Center building on School House Road.
Once a charter is adopted, the UCC will meet as a committee under the UPRD, a reorganization effort which UPRD President Bob Wittenberg called a necessary one. Instead of two separate entities meeting to discuss ongoings involving the community center, the UCC will maintain its primary responsibilities as manager of the Underwood Community Center while the UPRD will set the budget for the community center, a building that, for a time, was put up for sale by Skamania County, starting the effort to preserve it.
The UCC developed two political action committees back in 2017 to drive the campaign to save the community center. One was long-term oriented, with its primary goal to establish a taxing district, while the short-term mission was to merge the taxing district with the council. The merger will see the completion of the two campaigns’ goals. The formation of the UPRD was approved by Underwood voters in 2016 and a property tax levy in 2018, fulfilling one of the main objectives. Before the vote, the UCC held a lease agreement with Skamania County. The building survived off of donations through the UCC’s 501c3 status as well as rental income for two years. With the establishment of the taxing district, the deed went into the hands of the UPRD, Wittenberg said, thus demonstrating the need to merge the two bodies. The merger will remove the UCC’s 501c3 status, and the building will benefit from the UPRD’s revenue stream.
“Between rental income and the tax, it’s enough to keep the lights on and do some improvements,” Wittenberg said.
In May, the UPRD approved $14,000 from donations to go towards renovating the community center’s kitchen. Since then, new cabinets have been installed, as well as new flooring and lighting in the meeting room and in the gym. The group also bought a new stove and microwave for the kitchen and improved electrical components. They also hired a contractor to paint the gym.
Wittenberg said the community shared in this adventure through volunteering their labor and donating towards the project. It was not uncommon to see someone pull up to the building, pop their head in and ask how they could help with the project, Wittenberg said. With the help of one 11-year-old volunteer and his dad, “we laid the floor in one day.
“We were laughing because he was going like mad,” Wittenberg said.
The group is not yet done with their improvements. Wittenberg said the kitchen still needs work done, and noted important infrastructural upgrades will be needed at the community center, namely installation of backup power and water systems. These two upgrades are needed, Wittenberg said, to be able to keep the building running as an emergency center. The group is planning to install a well and a generator, but the upgrades are costly.
“It’s quite a tribute to the community,” Wittenberg said. “To me, it’s the center of the community. It gets used and you run into your neighbors. It keeps you civilized.”
Not all the activity in the building has diminished since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just last week, the American Red Cross held a blood drive in the building.
People can still reserve the facility through their website at underwoodcommunity.org/wp-ucc.