DREAM BIG — Cordelia Holst, director of the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center, dreams of a bigger and better community center with a cafe, an outdoor seating area and architecture reminiscent of the Barlow.

Sebastopol’s Community Cultural Center gathers signatures and support in advance of a council discussion on how to spend flood recovery money

The Sebastopol Community Cultural Center (SCCC) is gathering signatures for a petition asking the city council to fund flood mitigation measures and a full renovation of the community center’s main building, which was severely damaged in this year’s flooding.

Hoping to snag a large slice of the $1.5 million in flood mitigation funds that the city received from the state, Cordelia Holst, the community center’s director, plans to present an ambitious plan at the next city council meeting on Oct. 15.

She is hoping that large numbers of community center supporters will appear at the meeting, which will be held in the community center’s main hall. The hall is still in a semi-ruined state from February’s flood — its ceiling tiles gone and walls draped in black plastic.

A venue for concerts and classes for everyone from toddlers to seniors, the Community Cultural Center is a private nonprofit, but it operates as the de facto recreation department for Sebastopol, which contributes around $220,000 (including building upkeep) to the center every year.

The community center’s building is owned by the city of Sebastopol, which is good news because the $1.5 million from the state was designated for losses to city property only.

A two-step renovation process

There is no question that the community center’s main building needs to be repaired. In addition to the damage to the ceiling and the walls, the flood also destroyed the men’s and women’s restrooms, a small commercial kitchen and all of the center’s downstairs offices.

Donations have allowed the community center to repair just enough of its infrastructure to reopen, but it’s not a pretty site.

Not that the building itself has ever been much to look at. Although the community center is a beloved institution, its main building has long been acknowledged as one of the ugliest buildings in town — a metal box wedged between The Barlow and the ball fields at the edge of the laguna.

Even before this year’s flood, the building had languished for years mostly unimproved except for a new coat of paint and some required ADA renovations.

The reason for this neglect, according to Holst, is the building’s location in a recognized flood zone.

“What I learned is that when you’re in a flood zone, the flood ordinance for the city says that you cannot make any changes to the building without proving to FEMA that’s you’ve solved the flood issue,” she said. “So that’s our first request — that the city fund a flood mitigation solution. After that, we have a renovation plan that we believe will set the community center on a path for success going forward.”

There are both permanent and removable approaches to flood mitigation. The permanent approaches, like raised concrete foundations and tall earth berms, can be prohibitively expensive.

Holst said that the community center is suggesting that the city invest in an aquadam, which is essentially a huge inflatable plastic donut. A removable solution that is deployed only when a flood is imminent, the aquadam surrounds the building and is inflated with water, creating a temporary dam-like structure that keeps floodwaters at bay.

Sebastopol Vice Mayor Patrick Slayter said that, odd as it sounds, “The aquadam is a proven solution. It’s a temporary solution, but it could work.”

“At the same time,” he said, “it’s important to reconstruct the building using methods that, should the flood proofing fail, the building doesn’t suffer catastrophic damage.”

Holst said that the community center has come up with a new facilities plan that will do just that, “hardening” the building by renovating it with flood resistant materials. She hopes the building can be renovated to look like buildings in the Barlow, with large industrial doors to bring more light. 

In addition to basic structural repairs, the new facilities plan includes:

• A commercial kitchen and café that has indoor and outdoor seating and windows looking into the main hall — like the Snoopy’s ice rink, which is a part of the Schultz complex in Santa Rosa.

• Public bathrooms with showers that are accessible from inside and outside of the building.

• A renovated outdoor seating area.

• A performance stage that can be dismantled and removed, in much the same way that volunteers removed the community center’s wood flooring before this year’s flood.

The community center’s new facilities plan was created by its facilities committee, which includes, in addition to Holst, Alexis Persinger of Persinger Architects and former Sebastopol City Planner Kenyon Webster, as well as SCCC board members Suzanne Wright, Jill McLewis and Rick Williams (owner of Harmony Farms).

Webster wrote of the new facilities plan, “The planned suite of visionary improvements will not only provide better services to the community, they will also foster community itself. Function is, of course, at the core of our redesign and resiliency efforts, but while we’re at it, why not make the Community Center a place of beauty?”

Holst said that when she was cleaning up after the flood, she found a letter to a previous city council written by a former community center director back in 2004, asking for a similar list of improvements. 

“I could hardly believe what I was reading,” she said. “The community center has needed these same improvements for over 20 years.”

According to Slayter, because of the building’s location in a flood zone, any flood mitigation and renovation plans for the building will have to be approved by both the Sebastopol Building Department and FEMA.

Learn about this new plan for the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center at the next Sebastopol City Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 15, at 5 p.m., at the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center, 390 Morris St.

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