The Learning Council (TLC), a local educational nonprofit group, is under contract to purchase a property in downtown Paonia. The group will be relocating to 138 Grand Avenue, current home of Ollie’s Ice Cream, The Refinery and Savvy Sweets.
The well-locationed space will be transformed into an educational community hub for all TLC programs. Executive Director Alicia Michelsen said the closing date is set for Dec. 29.
“We know that Ollie’s was really beloved to our community and youth so, we definitely decided that we would definitely keep the ice cream component going and create a safe space for teens,” Michelsen said.
Teens will be able to work at the ice cream shop and gain valuable work experience for resumes and future work opportunities, she said.
TLC has some big dreams for what the building will become including a classroom space for learning opportunities in agriculture, health, art, drum and dance, music, environmental and social justice; a “Diversity Library” featuring hundreds of books from a variety of authors; a commercial kitchen to prepare and serve weekly community meals and house cooking classes, a residence for the Paonia Bike Co-op, and a headquarters for the organization’s administrative operations. And of course, the legacy of ice cream will continue with a teen-led ice cream shop featuring year-round sweets and treats.
“With the high school gone there is a need to have an additional center that’s teen friendly and welcoming to youth and adults. We hope to take that role to offer a center for higher education in Paonia that will hopefully increase the vitality of the town,” Michelsen said. “We’re hoping as we grow to be able to offer some classes with accreditation for high school students to work on college credits right here in Paonia.”
The Learning Council has been expanding its outreach in the community for the past several years and purchasing a property is a seamless next step, said Amanda Campbell, TLC team member.
“Until now, operations have been occurring in the director’s own living room. The new building space will centralize the group’s work, allowing access to quality educational and nutritional services to the whole community,” she said.
The building will be closed from Dec. 29 until the end of January for renovations. Michelsen hopes to have the front part of the building open for an office and a few class rooms. She said the basement area will house the bike co-op and there are plans for an outdoor classroom on a back patio area.
“Having a presence on Grand Ave. will bring our classes, meals, and programs to a larger audience. We are cultivating a community of lifelong learners here in the North Fork Valley and having a central location will only expand participation. Most importantly, we are creating a safe, affirmative space for all members of our community to learn and enjoy,” she said.
The Learning Council set an ultimate fundraising goal of $1.3 million dollars. The funding will go toward the purchase of the building and cost of needed renovation.
“We need to raise $500,000 by Dec. 29 to afford the building purchase. We are over $300,000 towards that goal,” said Michelsen, adding a special thanks to The Kampe Foundation, Mary Lalli, the Pittsburgh Foundation, Stuart Kramer, and others who have recently donated or are preparing to give.
“The Learning Council has been expanding its outreach in the community for the past several years and purchasing a building is an exciting next step. Until now, classes have been offered in a variety of locations across the valley. The group is looking forward to a central location and community hub,” Campbell added.
Lisa Young is a staff writer for the Delta County Independent.