The Lexington Progress
Citizens Band Together to Convert School
By Ellen Dahnke, Sun Reporter

Transcribed by Annice Meeler

Lexington’s civic center may not be the massive, multimillion dollar super-structure of larger cities, but the transformed former elementary school lives up to its name – it is for and by people. Senior citizens, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the Henderson County Arts Council and the Henderson County Library will soon call the Civic Center, housed in the old Lexington Elementary School, home.

ALTHOUGH most of the repair work and interior design is being done by professional, a series of painting parties and clean-up, fix-up events, staged by the new tenants and the local citizenry, has refurbished the aging building into a model community project.

A pancake breakfast sponsored by the Lion’s Club, a coffee day in Lexington, a flea market and a “Hee Haw” concert, plus assistance and donations from virtually every church and civic group in the city and county helped make the center a reality. “It will be an all inclusive center.” Mrs. LaRue Walpole, director, explained. “We hope to provide activities and events of interest to every age level, every group, all economic levels of the community – the affluent as well as those who are not.”

PLANS FOR THE CIVIC CENTER got under way last year when a group of Lexington residents, led by Brooks Westover, now general manager of the complex, came up with the idea of converting the old school into a multipurpose facility. Westover approached the city board to set up a committee to study uses for the old school building and the board eventually approved the conversion to the civic center.

“The building was too good to demolish.” Mrs. LaRue Walpole, director of the civic center, explained.

The school, built in 1926, still houses kindergarten classes in part of the building, although the elementary grades moved to a new facility last year. Left behind in the move was a vast amount of unused space, including a large auditorium and a gymnasium.

“It was the perfect place to bring several groups together, and it can be used by people all over the county.” Mrs. Walpole said. “So many groups in the county needed a place to meet, and we feel like this civic center can serve as a focal point for the entire community.”

ALTHOUGH MUCH work still remains to be done, the Senior Citizens Center is nearing completion and center officials are shooting for a June target date to open the facilities for other groups. Already, the center is serving about 60 senior citizens a noon meal daily in the nutrition center. Converting three former classrooms into one large dining area, the entire senior citizen’s center revolves around the main room. Offshoots from the dining area are hobby areas and small meeting rooms. In the hobby area, checkers tables have been set up. A quilt is already progressing at the deft touch of the women in the group. Linda Higgins, Planner for the Aging for the Southwest Tennessee Development District, said the group has “done a super job of setting up the center.” Mrs. Higgins and Jane Bohman, director of nutrition for the Chickasaw Area Development Council, make frequent trips to the center to assist the group. There are an estimated 3,000 senior citizens in Henderson County.

BOTH GROUPS work together on senior citizens projects to insure elderly citizens are made aware of various projects available through state and federal programs.

Senior citizens will have a variety of activities available to them once the center gets into full swing, according to Mrs. Walpole. History classes, ceramics courses, square dancing and flower clubs are planned. An old piano built in 1901 and donated to the center provides some musical entertainment for the group.

“The center will enhance a sense of good community feelings for the golden age group.” Offered A. L. Robinson, a member of the advisory council for the district. “The response has been beautiful – advice, money, assistance – people have been wonderful about getting this center started.”

One feature at the civic center to assist elderly citizens is a ramp for wheelchair users to be placed between the senior citizen’s center and the library.

The Henderson County Library, now housed in the courthouse, will be moved over to the building within the next few weeks to a remodeled, more spacious quarters.

Next door to the library, the Arts Council will have a new meeting place. Classes and lectures in the arts will be taught. The auditorium and Arts council rooms, may be the setting for council-sponsored plays with its ample room and large stage, Mrs. Walpole said. And the gymnasium will not go unused either. Its facilities will be available to Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or any group wishing to sponsor an event at the center. In addition, other rooms may be rented, Mrs. Walpole explained. The entire center will be made available to all groups in the city and county for sponsoring events, she said. “We hope to have a fun cultural meeting ground for anyone who wants to use the center.” Mrs. Walpole said. “Hopefully, our civic center will be inspirational and intellectually stimulating.”