Old school building gets new life

A community building that has sat empty for two years will soon show new signs of life, if the Centre/Lost Springs community has anything to say about it.

Teresa Huffman, Marion County Economic Development director, said the city council has approved plans to use the now-closed Centre elementary school building as a small-business incubator and for healthy cooking classes.

?It?s just a great opportunity,? she said. ?I just think we could really do something.?

The main focus for Huffman, who will head up the project, is opening new businesses.

?I keep a list, from the newspaper, of all these businesses,? she said. ?There are people out there with skills and talents and ideas that I don?t know about.

?And all I want to do is pander to them and ask them to contact me, and I?m here to help them with their business plan and their cost projections.?

She added, ?We have funding, microloans available, so I just want them to know they have a site available to start a business.?

The site will soon have an approved kitchen to use for preparing food items, and the classrooms and other areas provide plenty of space.

?They have a lot of equipment there,? she said. ?It needs refrigerators.

?We?ll develop a plan, get all the information together about what it?s going to cost, we?ll seek out some grants and I don?t think that will be a problem.?

She also added that there is no cost for interested people to consult with her to develop a business plan.

Huffman said the first spark of an idea for the project came from her working relationship with Gary Satter of Glacial Hills Resource and Development Region, Inc., a non-profit that has been using a similar building for specialized food classes and encouraging small business entrepreneurship.

Glacial Hills participants are actually working with Kansas State University to develop their food products, and has now hired a manager. They work with 4-H and extension programs as well.

The other aspect of Huffman?s plan for breathing new life into the Centre elementary school building involves food classes.

?I plan on bringing some trainers from Colorado that teach families how to cook healthy meals,? Huffman said, adding that it is a great program and most states have it, but it hasn?t yet been available in Kansas.

?The time is right,? Huffman said. ?We?re all so interested in our farmer?s markets and eating healthy and cooking healthy.?

She said they plan to partner with Satter?s program, and have also been in communication with another small community about a similar project.

Huffman said after seeing the program work so well in Glacial Hills, she approached the city of Lost Springs about it.

?The city seemed to be receptive, so they were going to discuss it, and I told them I would come and sit down with them and discuss a plan of how to proceed,? she said.

In addition to using the elementary school building, Huffman said, she?s also interested in land for agribusiness. But for now, she?s focusing on the project at hand.

?Just have people get in touch with me if they have an idea for any kind of business and need a location,? she said. ?We?re pretty excited about it.?

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