By Jacob Allen
The Williamston Post
The Williamston Community Center is in the process of being purchased by local businessman Timothy Baise, according to city officials and Baise. Baise has been a resident of Williamston for nearly 20 years. The community center, located at 201 School St., is currently owned by the city. A deal is in the works to sell the historical building within the next few weeks. If delays occur, the hope is the building will be Baise’s by June 1 at the latest.
The city of Williamston is going to sell the building, which currently holds the library, food bank and senior center, to Baise for around $200,000, according to City Manager Alan Dolley. Repairs alone, ignoring any renovation, would cost Baise around $500,000. The major repairs that must be done include replacing the leaky roof, fixing the water damaged ceilings and walls and repairing the boiler system. The boiler system is the building’s current heating system, but is nearly 60 years old. The system currently has no air handler or dryer, which has allowed moisture in the lines, causing a breakdown. Most of the thermostats and actuators are stuck open or shut causing some rooms to be either extremely hot or extremely cold with very little regulation capabilities.
“We are selling it for financial reasons. The city is putting anywhere between $60,000 to $100,000 a year into just utilities and general maintenance, this doesn’t include long-term maintenance issues,” said Alan Dolley, the city manager of three years. “Long-term maintenance issues include the leaking roof. A new roof on that building could be $200,000 to $300,000. It’s those types of things that the city just doesn’t have the money for.”
Councilman James DeForest is working with the city manager, attorney and Timothy Baise on a purchase agreement.
“It (the community center) is a drain on our limited financial resources and that’s why we are looking to sell the building,” said DeForest in an email.
The potential of the building has allowed Baise to see past the issues. He already has a plan for what he wants to do with the three-story brick structure.
“It (the community center) will make for a really good focal point for the city. It is a big building and it’s going to have lots of uses. Lots of people are going to use it from the library, to senior center, to retail to charity events. I think it’s going to be pretty cool and an opportunity for the whole community to get involved and do something a little bit bigger than what it has done in the past.”
Baise’s first order of business will be to fix the roof and boiler system, then he will move to renovation. The basement of the community center will be home base for all of Baise’s charities. Any walls that can be removed will be taken down in the basement to create one large open space to hold toys, food, clothes and other donated items.
Baise is married to the head of Top Flite Financial Charity Foundation, Tracie Baise. Tracie Baise is also the head of Toys for Angels Toy Drive, while Timothy Baise is head of Harvest House Ministries. Harvest House Ministries is a nonprofit organization that oversees all the charitable acts the Baises and their companies do.
“The cool thing about this is that everything we are doing in the building is going to be nonprofit. Even the profits from the coffee shop and retail rent will go right back into our toy, clothing and food drives,” Baise said. “Any profits made inside the building go right back into giving back to the community.”
In addition to his charity work, Baise co-owns Top Flite Financial with his wife. He also owns Bridge Stone Insurance, Map Reality, All in One Remodeling, DBA: Remodel-it and Three T’s Properties. All of these businesses are owned and operated out of Williamston. In total Baise is the chief executive officer of six companies including mortgage to insurance and real estate to construction companies.
The Williamston Community Center’s basement is currently home to the Williamston Food Bank and will remain home to the food bank according to Baise’s plans. The idea is to grow and expand the food bank with a vehicle that can transport food and necessities. Baise would also like to implement a walk-in refrigeration system for dairy products and eggs. The goal is to expand the food bank’s capabilities to serve anyone, not just those that live in the 48895, Williamston ZIP code area.
The gymnasium, located on the first floor of the community center, will need repair to the ceiling and floor due to water from the roof. Baise would also like to put new speakers and lighting in to turn it into a venue with the capability of holding 300 chairs on the floor and 200 people in the bleachers. The venue has potential to be used for religious gatherings, concerts, entertainment, weddings, graduations, receptions, banquets and as a catering facility. It could also be used for recreational purposes such as basketball or volleyball. Baise mentioned his idea for a secret event that would occur in the near future inside the gymnasium. He wouldn’t give any details except that it would be a big event for the community and parking may be an issue.
The second floor is currently home to Williamston’s branch of the Capital Area District Libraries and will remain home to the library according to Baise’s plan. First the second-floor lockers must be removed and the hall cleaned up. Then, pending city and library agreement, the library will be doubled in size and renovated. The city will pay rent for the space the library will take up in the community center, while the library pays for the renovation of its interior. Baise says the project will finally bring the Williamston Library up to the standards of other Capital Area District Libraries.
Jackie McDonald, who has worked at the library for 18 years, says that space has been a limiting factor. McDonald said a lot of Williamston residents go to other libraries to browse due to their larger selection of material then return their items at the Williamston branch.
“We would have space for more books, more stuff, more computers, more children’s area and more sitting area.” McDonald said. “We have a lot of people who come in here to use computers and laptops and all we have is one table and three chairs and that is not enough room.”
Less than a year ago there was talk of moving the library to a different location with possible demolition on the table for the Williamston Community Center. Linda Birdseye, who has lived in Williamston for 25 years and has been coming to the library very steadily for the past five, believes Baise’s plan makes better use of the building.
“I hate to see buildings just knocked down,” Birdseye said. “Sometimes they are built stronger back then than they are today, so unless there is something really drastically wrong with it I’d rather see it used.”
In addition to the library, the second floor of the Williamston Community Center, according to Baise’s plan, will be home to retail, boutique-like shops as well as a coffee and sandwich shop. The coffee and sandwich shop will serve soups, sandwiches, coffees, teas and fresh, made-to-order juices. It has been described by Baise as a mix between Starbucks and Panera.
“We will put in a coffee shop and retail facilities on the lower level to help tie everything together because the library sees a lot of visitors,” Baise said. “Retail will help the library. The library will help the retail. Everything will just kind of come together.”
The third floor is currently home to something Baise feels a lot of passion for, the senior center.
“Right now a lot of people in the community don’t even know that the senior center exists. I didn’t even know until I came in contact with the whole Williamston Community Center deal. It’s heartfelt to come in and see these seniors and see what’s going on. It gives them a place that they can feel at home away from home because seniors get missed a lot,” Baise said. “Once they get to a certain age they are kind of lost and forgotten and this gives them a home away from home if you would, so that’s why we are passionate about keeping this here and helping them expand.”
The plan is to expand the senior center over the top of the Williamston food bank and to have all of its activities contained in one large area. Currently the senior center, which has been in the building for 22 years, uses two rooms across the hall from each other.
“Expanding the senior center and having all of our activities in one room sounds like a good idea,” said Donna Anton, who has been coming to the senior center since 1992 and has lived in Williamston since 1964. “I think it would be better if we could see floor plans because obviously we need a kitchen area, we need a dining area, we need room for social activities and room for a piano and organ. If by expanding it he means including space for all of those things then that’s fantastic.”
Anton said that office space is critical for the operation of the senior center. She said the office director and volunteers all need space to work. The senior center will need storage space for activity and seasonal materials. Anton said she hopes that the expansion of the senior center will draw more people in.
“Hopefully it will encourage more people to come to the building because for instance there will not be a hole in the ceiling to leak on top of our potluck that we had the other night,” Anton said. “It will be a more comfortable environment for people to be in.”
Byron Burditt, who has lived in Williamston for six months, has noticed the growing population of seniors in the community.
“I realize there is a lot of local interest and there are a lot of folks who are considered seniors, such as myself,” said Burditt. “I would have to believe that the building and the senior center inside would get more usage especially if it’s in better condition with more things available.”
In addition to the senior center, the third floor of the community center will host additional boutiques and will be the future home of a Christian Bible college according to Baise. Currently, Baise hosts a Wednesday morning Bible study on the third floor in room 31.
The track and field behind the community center will remain property of the school district, as it is used for sporting events. The Trent Allen Memorial basketball courts and playground in front of the building will remain property of the city.
Baise also plans on implementing a wraparound driveway and additional parking to help with the expected increase of traffic to the building. The city has had many issues with the building since its purchase in 2007.
The city bought the building from Williamston Community Schools. The city council planned to recombine and house all of the city services in the building. This included city hall services, the police department and the department of public works. After the deal was made with the school district, a new city council was elected and decided it didn’t like the idea. The city was left to operate and maintain the building even though it didn’t and never would have any physical presence in it.
Baise said he thinks the building will work for his project.
“The community center building is a good fit for the project because it is 80 percent vacant. The city is not doing anything with it,” Baise said. “It is laying there dormant and deteriorating due to lack of funding, fixes are only made as needed. It has such great potential and has room for us to grow our community outreach.”
The community center, built in 1874, has survived two fires. The first was on Feb. 3, 1887, and the second February of 1902. It has been home to Williamston High School and Williamston Middle School throughout the years. Many of the active seniors at the senior center attended school in the building. According to the city manager, the community is behind Baise and his plan to update the building.
“Everything we have heard so far is that the community is, or at least those that are aware of what’s going on, are supportive of the idea to sell the building to Baise,” Dolley said.
Barbara Harkness is a lifelong resident of Williamston. She attended middle school in the building and brings her mother to the senior center to borrow jigsaw puzzles.
“I would love to see the building remain as a senior center, library and food bank hub. It would be great to see the building still being used,” said Harkness. “I would hate to see it torn down. If they could keep it for the senior center and library so it is in use that would be great.”
Anton said the building has been around almost a century and half and has a historical feel to it. She hopes this feel can be preserved through the process of updating the building.
“The community center is a historical building and it is a good thing that it will be renovated, but we have to keep some of the charm of the old building. For instance we have all of these old pictures hung up on the walls of the senior center which were found inside a construction area many years ago,” said Anton. “We have a picture of a Williamston High School graduating class from 1898 hung up. If that charm of the old building can be combined with modern conveniences that would be wonderful.”
Whether or not this is possible, Baise said the updated building will bring a lot to the community and points to his beliefs as his reasoning for taking on this expensive project.
“It has to do with our faith and our beliefs. We are Bible believing folks and it says to love others as we love ourselves and give back,” Baise said. “We are supposed to help people in need and there are a lot of people in need. Whether they need food, clothing, toys or a friend it is our purpose to be there for them.”