History of the Boca Grande Community Center and Friends
The Boca Grande School served the community for 36 years from 1929-1965. For eight years, the building began to deteriorate, as windows were broken, the elements damaged floors and walls. The once proud school became a public eyesore and a target for repeated vandalism.
In early 1973, several local organizations joined resources and began the inevitable task of rescuing the building from destruction and decay. The local Woman’s Club spearheaded the group, which included the Boca Grande Community House, the GICIA, Lee County, and island scout troops. Funds were raised and plans were drawn. These concerned residents and the county had made a momentous decision that would shape the future of Boca Grande.
During 1973 and 1974, a total renovation took place as a new roof was put into place, as well as new windows, new plumbing, and new electrical wiring that would safely handle the new heating and cooling system. New partitions were erected and the various rooms redesigned for the anticipated community center activities. Floors were also repaired and refinished and walls replastered and painted. Outside, the basketball court was resurfaced and outdoor lights were installed.
The substantial cost of this renovation was met through major contributions from the GICIA and the Boca Grande Woman’s Club, and most importantly through the town residents and Lee County budget. On September 5, 1974, the newly remodeled and newly named Boca Grande Community Center was opened. A “Grande” opening on March 16, 1975, complete with elaborate ceremonies, was held at the center to dedicate the facility for the use of the town’s residents and visitors. Recognition also came for the efforts and contributions of individuals and organizations that had brought it into being.
In the decade that followed, many of the programs and activities that have continued to this day were initiated. It was a period, thanks in large part to the center, when the town was reenergized. Activity rooms for various programs for young people and adults were provided. The auditorium was renovated and made available to island organizations for large meetings, lectures, plays and other special events. GICIA offices were established in the new community center, as was the Woman’s Club room. Also, a parent’s advisory board was established in October 1979. The main purpose of the board was to assist in handling funds not provided by Lee County and help provide a more specialized program through better equipment, teachers, and special events. The center was off to a flying start!
As the use of the community center grew, it became apparent that a facility was needed within the Center where young people could gather after school or in the evening to study. It would be a non-circulating library that would complement the Johann Fust circulating library on West Tenth Street. Under the leadership of Mrs. Arthur A. (Nina) Houghton, Jr., a committee was formed in May 1986 to raise funds for the facility and suitable reference books and periodicals. The reference library soon became a reality.
In October 1986, an organization called Friends of Boca Grande Community Center was formed to supplement the programs provided by Lee County and further energize the Center’s programs and activities. Almost immediately, improvements began to be made in the center’s physical facility and operation.
A second renovation of the Community Center was completed in 1994 and 1995. More than $470,000 was raised by Friends of the Community Center under the presidency of Joan Carroll. This along with an appropriation of $575,000 from Lee County made it possible to add major improvements throughout the center. Included were a new fitness room, a large multi-purpose room, and new tennis, basketball and volleyball courts. The reference room and Parks & Recreation Department offices were reconfigured. When the million- dollar plus renovations were completed in 1995, Boca Grande began enjoying a totally modernized center. 1995 was also the year that an anonymous benefactor gave $250,000 to Friends of the Community Center to establish a permanent endowment fund for the Center. Interest from the fund can be used for the operating expenses of the center from year to year, but that principal is to remain intact as an endowment.
The Friends were involved in the restructuring of the centers operating management in 1999, when they agreed to partially fund the newly created position of senior supervisor to oversee the center into the new millennium. Bob Green assumed the position in June of 1999 and brought with him a fresh set of new ideas to modernize the centers offerings. He, along with Friends administrator, Mariela Camara, began offering programs new to Boca Grande. Attendance in 2000 doubled from the previous year. In addition, the auditorium went through a complete $600,000 overhaul in 2001 which included new flooring, restoration of the original window openings, comprehensive accessibility improvements, as well as new curtains, lighting, and a state-of-the-art sound system.
In 2006 the Friends and their valued supporters celebrated 20 years of service to the community center with a January 14 gala highlighted by the grand reopening of the newly refurbished Teacherage and Dishong Bowen Complexes which now houses the Woman’s Club Boca Bargains, as well as the local Art Alliance and Historical Society.
As technology drastically changed and improved over the years, the auditorium underwent a technological upgrade in 2019 by installing an all new theatrical lighting system comprised of ETC LED luminaires, Chauvet Professional intelligent automated spot fixtures, atmospheric FX and more. The control system now includes a ChamSys MagicQ console for programming and operating technicians, and an ETC EchoTouch Controller to easily trigger pre-saved lighting scenes for quick and easy event applications.
The stage has been equipped with all new masking curtains on the wings and rear wall, as well as a 18’ wide cyclorama. Finally, the addition of the Barco 12,000 Lumen, 4K laser phosphor projector has upped the video projection to a caliber that is truly top of the line.
The Friends have made remarkable strides in improving our community recreational life here on the island.