by Brian Pondenis, for the Southern Champaign County Today, October 28, 2009.
The Ayers Township Community Building, located on Lincoln Street in Broadlands, needs your help. As many residents are aware, the building is in poor condition and requires many repairs to restore and maximize its usefulness to the community. The Community Building has a distinctive architecture and a rich history, which deserve preservation. Yet, the community would benefit from modifications designed to ensure the building fits the needs of today’s residents.
The Community Building was financed by a combination of township bonds and Works Projects Administration grants. Construction of the reinforced concrete structure was completed in July, 1942.
A gymnasium and stage occupy the majority of the building. A special feature of the gym is the use of a pair of enormous laminated wood arches, spanning 75 feet and rising 25 feet, rather than ordinary trusses, to support the roof over the playing floor. In addition, there are showers and dressing rooms, a community kitchen, and meeting rooms.
The building’s exterior architectural design reflects the distinctively geometric Art Deco style popular at that time, in striking contrast to the remainder of the business district in Broadlands, whose buildings were erected either before or after the community building. The concrete Community Building was among few to survive the devastating downtown Broadlands fire of 1949.
According to newspaper reports, the new community building provided much-needed meeting space for local clubs, churches, and all civic and social groups. The local high school, at that time unable to construct its own gym, enjoyed use of the new gym for its team, the Broadlands Cowboys. The Cowboys, dressed in the school colors of maroon and gold, played in front of capacity crowds. The township and village also held their regular meetings in the building, which also served as a polling place. In 1953, the Broadlands Community Library opened there.
In the building’s early years, many local organizations, including 4-H, the Broadlands Women’s Club, and the Fire Department (before its Broadlands station was built) held meetings in the building. The Broadlands Community Club regularly decorated the building at Christmas, featuring a large lighted tree, nativity scene, and music. When the local Masonic Hall was rebuilt after the 1949 fire, the community building’s kitchen was used to serve a big dinner in conjunction with a parade to celebrate the Hall’s reopening. When a local church burned to the ground, the community building served as a temporary place to hold services. During Broadlands’ 1989 centennial celebration, a museum of local history was located in the building.
Local residents fondly recall the entertainment provided at the community building. Plays, minstrel shows, magicians, and live music were featured regularly on the maroon-curtained stage, and free movies were shown on a screen behind the building. The Community Club hosted annual Halloween masquerade parties, costume contests, and dances, which drew large crowds. The Women’s Club hosted an annual flower show, attracting many exhibitors from the surrounding communities. In the 1970s, a teen center opened in the building, providing activities for local youth.
Currently, the township board holds its meetings in the building. The local grade school volleyball team holds some practices there, and the building is frequently used by those wishing to play basketball. The Broadlands Community Club also continues to host an annual Halloween costume contest in the Community Building.
However, time and a lack of funding have taken its toll on the Community Building. The gymnasium’s ceiling, which has been redone several times, is again in disrepair,
with ceiling tiles broken and falling down. The roof leaks. The once-grand stage is now curtainless and has been boarded up. Most of the windows – those that haven’t been boarded up, that is – are broken. The restrooms are unsuitable, and the remainder of the building is in similar condition. Several entities have considered tearing the building down. Once again, the building’s solid concrete construction saved it, for the cost to remove the building would be prohibitively expensive.
Many residents have expressed a desire to see the Community Building restored and usable. The Community Building Trustees want to restore this jewel of Broadlands and Ayers Township and are exploring grant options for such a project. However, public input is needed to plan an effective renovation.
What would you, the residents of Ayers Township, like to see the building used for? Residents with ideas are encouraged to place a suggestion in the suggestion box located at Lincoln Street Lounge in Broadlands, or they may contact Brian Pondenis at 834-3410 or email@example.com.