The Columbus Community Building opened to the public over the summer and has become a hub for the community ever since then.
NOTE TO READERS: A lot happened in Columbus throughout 2023, including at the City of Columbus. In the spirit of the holiday season, we want to take a moment to highlight the stories that City staff and leaders identified among their favorites of the year. We also took into account comments and readership stories received on the City’s website and social media channels. Here’s our No. 1 story of 2023!
Thunderous applause could be heard early on July 8th, 2023, along 14th Street as hundreds of residents packed outside the Columbus Community Building for its grand opening.
“This is such an exciting event for us and all of you. This voter-approved, $32-million project was completed on time and on budget,” Columbus Mayor Jim Bulkley said to the crowd, moments before cutting the ribbon, to many cheers. “We figured out that working together gets things accomplished. This is a great example of what that means – coming together for the common good, for a common cause, for the betterment of our community.”
The immaculate 75,000-square-foot, 55-feet high building is supported by 1 million pounds of structural steel and features a new two-level Columbus Public Library (with a quarter-mile of shelving); City Hall; City Council Chamber and community room; as well as the Columbus Arts Council and a remote location of The Broken Mug, among other things. The Columbus Area Children’s Museum is expected to open in 2024.
Far more than 1,000 residents stopped by on July 8th to help celebrate and tour the open spaces within the building. Certain spots in the building are still being worked on, but it was important to the City of Columbus for residents to be able to see the building as soon as possible as City Hall officially opened for operations to the public on July 5th.
Many residents in attendance expressed their excitement as they walked through the facility, which came together thanks to the hard work of BVH Architecture; general contractor Boyd Jones Construction and its 51 subcontractors and suppliers; as well as the City and its eight additional subcontractors and suppliers.
“It was not done overnight,” City Engineer Rick Bogus said. “There were over 150,000 hours of skilled labor put into this project …”
Although many from the public had been awaiting the building’s opening, the construction came together relatively quickly when considering site clearing occurred in 2020 and an official ground-breaking ceremony occurred in the fall of 2021.
(ABOUT THE PHOTO: Columbus Mayor Jim Bulkley, center, prepares to cut the ribbon to open the Columbus Community Building on Saturday, July 8th, 2023, during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Among those pictured with him include City Administrator Tara Vasicek; then-City Council President Beth Augustine-Schulte, Council members Rich Jablonski, Ron Schilling, Katherine Lopez, J. Prent Roth and Charlie Bahr; Sen. Mike Moser and City Engineer Rick Bogus.)
But the concept for the Columbus Community Building was no quick-fire idea. It dates back to 2007-2008, hatched out of the Columbus Area Chamber’s community-wide planning session that inspired the idea to create four new quality-of-life centers in the community.
The first three, a new East-Central District Health Department, the Columbus Wellness Center that features the Columbus Family YMCA and Columbus High School’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Program, had previously come to fruition. The Columbus Community Building was the last step in that process.
“This building stands as a symbol of the community’s collective vision - a vision that was fueled by the desire to enhance our residents’ quality of life by bringing together amenities in Columbus many enjoy and many have so long desired,” City Administrator Tara Vasicek said. “It’s a testament to what can be achieved when we work together, hand in hand, toward a common goal.”
A little more than five months after the building opened up, Mayor Bulkley in late December said it has measured up to what expectations were for it and more.
“When you look at the history behind the concept of this facility and then the final results, it is truly amazing. Raising up from the results of a no vote for what was originally proposed as a new Library this facility was reinvented and taken back to the people,” Bulkley said.
“When we cut the ribbon on July 8th, we knew there would be excitement. But I don’t think any of us thought that we would get the amount of praise and compliments for a job well done. A job taken to the people, approved by the people, and now being utilized by the people.”
City Councilman Ron Schilling echoed that sentiment.
“I think it has been a great asset to our downtown area. I’ve had people from out of town comment on how it’s very impressive,” Schilling said. “… I think it is something that has been very advantageous to our community, something we needed. And it’s functioning really well … I am very satisfied with it.”
K.C. Belitz, who in 2023 was appointed director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) by Gov. Jim Pillen, said ahead of the grand opening celebration that the new building will be an anchor for downtown Columbus and represents what’s great about the local area. He was the local Chamber president and part of the Quality-of-Life initiatives years ago.
“You just have to step back and appreciate what Columbus has done. There’s a reason we say Columbus is a place where collaboration lives. There's a reason we say Columbus is the 'City of Power and Progress.' This project, this building and the things that are going to happen inside of it are the living embodiment of both of those phrases,” Belitz said, noting the CCB represents the conclusion of the Quality-of-Life Centers project. “It’s an extraordinary step forward …”
The Columbus Community Building came to be after voters in the November 2020 general election approved the issuance of bonds not to exceed $10 million to be paid by the half-percent sales tax (approved by voters in 2016). The City Hall portion is covered using the City's general fund revenue. Nearly 50% of the Columbus Community Building was paid for with donations and cash in hand
Residents of all ages made their way through the building, stopping for enjoyable programming at the Columbus Public Library, such as face-painting and balloon animals, and the chance to participate in projects with the Columbus Arts Council. There were plenty of smiles, laughs and well-wishes shared throughout the event. That’s what the building was meant to be – a hub for everyone to enjoy together.
“It’s a place to gather, collaborate and foster lasting connections,” Vasicek said to the crowd during the grand opening. “To create lasting memories.”
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