American Legion Post 254 needs to move out of its cramped building in downtown Johnstown and hopes to build a new community-oriented facility on vacant land next to the village municipal offices.
Post 254 officials asked Johnstown Village Council on Aug. 6 to consider donating or leasing at least 1 of 3 acres north of the village offices at 599 S. Main St.
"I'm here this evening to ask for your help," Post Commander Gordon Cromwell said. "We've outgrown our post. We have to have a lot of our activities in other buildings."
Cromwell suggested that a 40-by-70-foot metal building, with either a brick or stone facade, could be built on property owned by the village. Post 254 is seeking either a donation of the land or perhaps a 99-year lease at $1 a year.
The building would have a large kitchen and a meeting room that could be converted into smaller meeting rooms by using movable dividers.
The site would have a playground, a pavilion at the entrance and a brick walkway with engraved bricks that would be sold for $75 to $100 each. About 800 bricks would be needed, and that money, along with donations from businesses, other veterans groups throughout Ohio and various fundraisers, would pay for the project.
He did not have a total cost for the proposed project.
"We've priced land," he said. "We know it costs a lot. This would give the community a place for family-friendly events, fundraisers ... events costing a nominal fee or no fee at all."
He said after the meeting that several vacant parcels have been considered, including a 7-acre site that is priced at more than $200,000. Getting the land from the village would be a great savings to Post 254, Cromwell said.
Village officials asked several questions about the proposal and said they need time to study it.
"It's a big decision," Mayor Sean Staneart said. "It will take some time to digest. I like the idea (of) the community center."
One question is whether the Monroe Township Fire Department still has any interest in the 5-acre municipal-office site, including the vacant 3 acres. Three years ago, the village and fire officials discussed swapping facilities, but no decisions were made.
Village Manager Jim Lenner said he plans to contact fire officials to check on whether they still have any interest in swapping.
Cromwell said post members hope to get the land and finish the project, including the fundraising, over the next two years. However, although the Post 254 has sold its existing building, it could stay there for the next three years. The post has been in that building for several decades.
That two-story building at 44 S. Main St. could hold only about 60 people in its meeting room. The post has 160 to 180 members.
Councilwoman Carol Vandeest asked if the membership is likely to hold steady over the coming years.
"We're having some problems in the aging of our members, but we're having new members come in," Cromwell said. "We do need more members, and that's our future. We're the only veterans group in the village. We do have a good active post. We put in thousands of hours and bring in thousands of dollars" to the community.
Former Post Commander Bruce Tolle, who handles public relations for Post 254, distributed an information sheet to council members, showing Post 254 returns $12,000 to $15,000 a year to the community.
Various activities include placing 800 American flags on veterans graves on Memorial Day, providing a color guard for parades, donating flags to various agencies and events in the village, sponsoring American Legion baseball teams, sponsoring the Fourth of July fireworks display and donating food and money to the food pantry.