Nearly every Northwest city and town has a center of gravity -- a place with a heartbeat. You know: Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square or Seattle’s Pike Place Market. But in the remote town of Arock, in southeast Oregon, that kind of spot has been missing for a long, long time. That’s about to change. Anna King has this story about a far-flung community that’s building a new place to gather.
On the twisting gravel road to Arock, there isn’t much. Sagebrush, tall grass, barbed wire and a whole lot of wind. The nearest big town is Boise -– two hours away. This is way out there -- like way out.
So when construction recently started on a new community center in town people in Arock took notice, including Kirk Eiguren. He’s 12 years old. He tells me about the winter day a truck dropped of the community center’s new septic tank.
“Oh, look, look, look, look! Yep. It’s a pretty big deal when not much goes around here," Eiguren says. "And when stuff does, everyone’s at the windows looking at stuff.”
The last building downtown was finished in about 1960 so Vicki Jo McConnell says this new community center is a lot of change for Arock.
“And some people I think still don’t quite believe it," she says. "I think once they see it, it will be a reality.”
McConnell is one of two teachers at Arock’s K-8 school. There are only nine students. She’s been instrumental in getting a community center built here. And it’s been a long time coming: The town started saving for it in 1985, she was just six back then.
To understand just how important this facility is to these families, I took a tour with McConnell and three of her students. We walked around the less than quarter-mile gravel loop of downtown. Then they show me where people used to gather -- the bat-infested old Grange Hall.
“Welcome to the dungeon," McConnell says with a laugh. "Where do you want to start?”
This dates back to the 1930s. Now with the help of several grants, the town of Arock is building a bat-free nearly 6,000-square-foot community center. It will have a big kitchen, a junior-high-sized basketball court, bleachers and unlike the grange...
"As you walk in on the right, we’ll have a men’s and women's restrooms," McConnell says. "Which will be new for us, you’ve seen the grange.”
“I mean it’s just some place that you can go,” says rancher Stef Easterday. When I visited her, the family was branding calves. ,p> Easterday thinks the new building will finally create a heartbeat for Arock -– or a place that draws everyone in off the expansive rangeland.
Easterday says many people here go to work in the morning and don’t see another human soul all day.
“I think if there is a building people could use, they’re going to use it for bridal showers, baby showers, Christmas parties," Easterday says. "I think everything, they’ll use if for everything.”
Contractors are putting in the foundation now and have some of the framing up. The community center is on track to have its grand opening in the late summer.
Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio