BANNER — A small group of local citizens came together to restore a historical building to its original glory, hoping to once again bring life inside its walls for community use by both Sheridan and Johnson County residents.
The existing Kearney Community Hall was built by a group of locals in the early 1950s on land next to U.S. Highway 87, according to a Facebook page about the building. The structure is the third physical building with the same title erected in the same area of land south of Story off of the Interstate 90 Piney Creek exit in Johnson County. The other two buildings were “evidently not adequate to meet community needs,” according to the website.
The former hall was managed by a local club and used for dances, reunions, weddings, socials, Christmas programs, voting, receptions, homemaker club meetings, card playing, livestock organizational meetings, 4-H and FFA, county extension programs and other community and recreational events. The board tackling the renovations now has similar desires for the building, with hopes to use it as an alternative to the fairgrounds for a host of different community meetings and celebrations. Before it can be rented, though, it must be functional, and the board is currently working to make that happen.
“We’re hoping to be able to use the building as soon as we can, but we have certain things that we need to get done before we can like the bathrooms, which are kind of important,” board member Scott Gall said. “Obviously if you want to use it in the wintertime, heat’s kind of important.”
Gall said the board currently doesn’t have a timeline because it is dependent upon having money to pay for the checklist of things needed before the building is functional.
“We’re kind of constrained by our budget,” Gall said. “We will go until we run out of money and, in the meantime, (the board is) all aware that that’s our situation.”
The board estimated it would need $300,000 to complete everything on its wish list, but may only need around $260,000 to restore the building to the point of safe and comfortable community use. So far, the group has raised around $100,000 through many avenues — from $20 checks to $9,000 from a pie auction. Grants also contributed to the group’s efforts, including a recent one from Johnson County Recreation District that will fund the two bathrooms being installed.
The building itself will not be designated as a historic site because the building has been altered in its construction.
For example, the former door entrance was sealed off, and the current front door was created from a window just left of the “Kearney Community Hall” words painted on the side of the building.
The restoration already done has been completed in part with the help of donations and contributions from local construction businesses. Some have completely donated their time to complete electric, plumbing, interior and exterior needs, and others have helped but been paid. Gall said both are welcome and he said the board appreciates all help toward complete restoration of the building.
While the building and land itself are in Johnson County and much of the efforts have derived primarily from Johnson County residents, Gall said Sheridan County citizens and businesses have also started helping with the process.
Gall said the board has discussed neighboring Fort Phil Kearny using the building, too. Fort Phil Kearny Superintendent Misty Stoll expressed interest in hosting some of the fort’s programs when construction is completed. Courtney Caplan, who spearheaded the project from its onset, said Stoll wants to use the space for children’s programs and other talks from the fort in poor weather conditions.
“What Misty often says is that the real resource of Fort Phil Kearny is the land itself and the history,” Caplan said.
The board wanted the building to be ready for an open house around Christmas, but Caplan more realistically estimated for a spring community event. Kearney Community Hall has a ways to go before its completed, but with the help of community partners and a committed board, it could be used for community events of all types once again soon.