Skip to main content

Community Center groups listening carefully as they develop future plans

May 25, 2023
By Guest Columnist

Submitted by Friends of Boca Grande

For several years now, groups that use the Community Center facilities, especially high-use groups, have been talking about making improvements:  The Historical Society needs more space; Royal Palm Players needs a better back stage; Friends would like more comfortable seating and high-tech equipment in the auditorium; Boca Bargains needs more space; the duplicate bridge group needs space; The Island School needs a little more space and a dedicated room for lunch and after-school programs; all groups could benefit from a dedicated meeting room. This list goes on and on.

What would be needed is to restore and renovate all that is wonderful (that includes leaving the exterior of our buildings as they are), and modernizing the guts of the entire facility, addressing issues such as ADA compliance, HVAC shortcomings, technology challenges and opportunities, and general needs for more and better space. After all, some 34 island organizations use the Community Center at one time or another during a season.

Hurricane Ian got many organizations thinking: Will there ever be a good time to begin planning for improvements?  With the heavy devastation experienced throughout Lee County, would the County be willing to support our efforts?  More importantly, would the Boca Grande community support this undertaking and agree that the Community Center needs a facelift?

Shortly after the Hurricane, Marta Howell and Bayne Stevenson met with Lee County officials to find out how supportive they would be of an effort by the community to make substantial improvements to the Community Center. They were met with enthusiastic support. Lee County is proud of the partnership with Friends of Boca Grande and encouraged the group to move ahead with planning. 

The next step was to get input from members of all the groups that use the Center. Marta Howell and various Friends Board members began meeting one-on-one with most of the 34+ organizations that use the Center to find out what their needs are. They realized very quickly that there were a lot of needs, and they needed to know if the Boca Grande community would support their efforts.

There are seven organizations that have leases with Lee County for space at the Community Center: Gasparilla Island Conservation & Improvement Association, Boca Grande Woman’s Club, Boca Grande Historical Society, Boca Grande Arts Center, Friends of Boca Grande, the Island School, and Royal Palm Players.  We are calling them the Community Center Campus Partners.  Together they sent a research questionnaire out to their constituents, realizing there would be overlap, but desiring to reach as much of the community as possible. One feature of using an online survey platform is that you cannot answer the survey multiple times.

The survey yielded 656 responses for analysis.

A criterion was established that if 60 percent or more of the respondents replied positively to a question, it was a clear indication that positive action was required.

On the basis of this criterion, three questions achieved a response of 60 percent positive or more.

  • 72 percent said that the Community Center auditorium was important to community life.
  • 60 percent said that any plans must include input from The Island School.
  • 60 percent said the Friends of Boca Grande Community Center should move ahead with a program to improve the Community Center campus.

Other questions and issues did not meet this high bar. Specifically, the new technology proposals of touch screen ordering and a unified concierge split the respondents 50/50. The question about whether more and better-lit parking would increase attendance came back with only 20 percent supporting the idea (almost a reverse mandate).

How people learn about events at the Center has been an ongoing topic of discussion for finding the most efficient way to communicate with members. The clear source for 89 percent of the people is the Boca Beacon, followed by 63 percent of those who rely on organizations’ emails.

Moving forward, the results of the survey have been shared with the heads of island organizations. The feedback has been positive. The Friends of Boca Grande Community Center will be the lead organization in the process of developing a plan for the campus.