Baggs to get longtime dream of community center

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If you go

What: Groundbreaking for new Valley Community Center in Baggs, Wyo.

When: 10:30 a.m. Friday

Where: From Wyoming Highway 789, turn west onto North Street and travel 1.5 blocks to the site

For more information, call Brent Wilson at 307-383-3041.

For as long as Linda Corners, mayor of Baggs. Wyo., can remember, the small town has been without a central community meeting place.

With no communal facility, funerals were often held in the school building.

Baggs only has one gymnasium for its 348 residents, and often, student-athletes have to stay out late for practice, waiting for access to the gym.

"It'd be nice to have a large meeting place to have wedding receptions, funerals and places for seniors and youths to go," Corners said. "I think it would definitely get a lot of use."

On Friday, the towns of Baggs and Dixon, Wyo., will break ground on a new, 17,800-square-foot Valley Community Center, a project that has been more than 10 years in the making.

Wyoming Gov. Dave Feudenthal will be present for the ceremony, which begins at 10:30 a.m. at the future site of the center on North Street.

"We're all looking forward to having a place for everyone to use," Corners said.

Kathi Terkla, a Baggs resident, is the chair of the Valley Community Center Joint Powers Board, a combined effort of Baggs and Dixon, towns that are seven miles apart.

Terkla said she has been working on the project for more than 10 years, but the concept for a community center in the Little Snake River Valley has been alive for almost three decades.

"There's always been somebody in the valley for over 30 years that's been trying to get it going," Terkla said. "But they kept running into road blocks like the usual money and land problems."

But all that turned around five years ago when a Wyoming Business Council representative, Tom Johnson, walked into Terkla's office and asked if there were any projects the town of Baggs could use some help with.

The town received a community facilities grant from the state of Wyoming for $1.5 million, and another $300,000 for a business ready grant.

However, Terkla said the community center never would have become a reality without a $500,000 donation from the largest employer in Baggs - oil company Devon Energy.

Based in Oklahoma City, Okla., Terkla said Devon Energy has never before showed that level of support for one of its small-town field offices.

"They do a lot of philanthropic things in big cities," Terkla said. "But this was really a first for them. They just saw that we had a serious need in our community for something like this, and we have to thank them for stepping up and taking that risk."

Brent Wilson, an assistant production manager at Devon Energy, said the company has been generous with allowing him time to serve on the Joint Powers Board and work on the community center.

"We really wanted to step up and make a difference in the community," Wilson said. "It's been a long time coming. There was a lot of politicking and a lot of meetings. But I think that local kids will really benefit from this."

Once the almost $3 million in grants was secured, Terkla and the Joint Powers Board needed land.

The Little Snake River Valley School donated 2.5 acres on North Street for the community center, but Terkla said soliciting donations from locals was sometimes a tough sell.

"We've been working on it for so long that most people are sitting back and waiting to see if we actually do it," she said. "That's why the groundbreaking will be so exciting for those of us who have worked on it for so long."

The center will feature a walking track for seniors, a full-sized gym and a game room with pool tables.

One family donated a Nintendo Wii with the American Idol game, in honor of their late son's favorite pastime.

Terkla and Wilson both expressed relief and excitement for the upcoming groundbreaking ceremony, which will mark the end of a long road and the beginning of an endeavor that will benefit the community for years to come.

"It's really exciting," Terkla said. "It's been a lot of work, and there have been a number of times we thought we'd just run up against too many brick walls and we just can't do it anymore," she said. "It's going to be a great feeling."

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