Communities, Front Page, Oakridge/Westfir

What’s Happening at the WAC?

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The WAC, located on School Street in Oakridge, has been permanently closed, prompting efforts to find funds for an extensive remodeling. Rick Zylstra photo

By GUEN DIGIOIA/ for The Herald  —  The Willamette Activity Center (WAC), a beloved community center in Oakridge, was built from the timber that was once the backbone of the local economy. It has a unique history and character, and many community members fondly remember their days spent using the WAC. Originally the Willamette Elementary School, it became a hub of co-located services when the schools downsized. Now, the City had to close the WAC due to the building being uninsurable.

Rural infrastructure funding dollars made available

In February 2022, Oregon State Senator Floyd Prozansky added $1.5 million in funding for “renovation of the Willamette Activity Center” to rural infrastructure funding bill 5202. The reality is that $1.5 million will only cover a portion of the cost of necessary upgrades.

In order to raise the money necessary to make the WAC useable again, the City has partnered with South Willamette Solutions, a local nonprofit, to form the WAC funding committee. The committee is a volunteer-based group, chaired by previous City Administrator Bryan Cutchen, with community leaders from the city staff, Food Box, Senior & Disability Services, Orchid Health, the schools, local businesses, volunteer citizens, and other nonprofit groups.

Renovate vs new construction

The City has looked to remodel the WAC in the past but lacked funds. Now, this state funding can be a match for federal grants. “Why renovate?” some may ask. “Many grants require a ‘remodel’ and will not fund entirely new construction,” says Cutchen. The Committee is open to all funding sources, and it plans to let the funding drive the planning process.

The Committee hopes to restore the WAC to be a fully functional community activity center to co-locate services in this ideal location. As part of designing the space, the Committee and the City will include the community through public involvement with surveys and meetings to learn what the community wants most for the WAC.

Guen DiGioia is an Oregon State alumnus with her master’s in sustainable forest management with a minor in statistics. She grew up here in Oakridge, Oregon, and is currently the residential upgrade and smoke outreach coordinator for Oakridge Air. Guen DiGioia photo

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