For the Daily Journal

After being nearly condemned a few years ago, a downtown Edinburgh building will soon reopen with a new look and a name honoring a longtime town leader.

The John Drybread Community Center is set to open June 1 and will serve as an adult activity facility and a gathering place.

“The community center will impact the entire town,” Edinburgh Town Manager Wade Watson said. “It will honor this area’s history, culture and diverse background as the oldest established community in Johnson County.

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“John was always active here and was a great visionary, so it only makes sense to dedicate this building to him.”

The new center is planned in the former Blue River Federal Savings Bank building at 100 E. Main Cross St. that was given to the town in 2009. The building has been empty for years, though it was used for an annual haunted house for a few years. When a pizza restaurant considered the location a few years ago, town officials found the building was unsafe and in need of significant repairs.

The town then applied for and got a grant to fix up the building, and decided to put a community center inside.

Drybread, who the center was named after, graduated from Edinburgh Community High School, worked for Cummins for three decades, spent 25 years on the town council and served as town manager for more than 10 years. He died of brain cancer in March 2016 at the age of 65. In the 1980s, he worked with his mother to recruit Edinburgh Premium Outlets. He helped fix issues at the town’s golf course and hired new management to turn it around, and was involved in the addition of two new water towers and a new wastewater treatment plant.

“John was very passionate about Edinburgh. He wanted to see things accomplished, and he wanted to see it thrive,” said Mary Patterson, director of administrative services for the town and a member of the John R. Drybread Community Center Committee. “The naming of this building after him is very appropriate because the town has such unlimited possibilities. We want to carry John’s vision on.”

Blue River Federal started as Blue River Building and Loan in 1911 in a building one block to the east, moved to Main Cross and Walnut streets for more space and closed its doors for the last time in November 2002. When officials found the building was unsafe, Watson’s main concern was to save it, he said.

“The Edinburgh downtown area is unique. We don’t have missing pieces, and all of these structures, which are still standing, were built in the late 1800s. There was never a thought that we would let it go and be demolished. Our intention was to save it, but we had to figure out how,” he said.

Town officials surveyed residents, businesses and the schools to ask what should be done with the space and then applied for a $400,000 historical restoration grant, which required the town to contribute $40,000. Once they got the grant, the committee focused on designing the inside of the building and the types of activities and programs to be offered there.

A senior adult program is planned, along with a visitors’ welcome center, Patterson said. A full-time director, who has not yet been hired, will run programming, schedule events and form local business relationships for promotions and connecting residents with job openings.

The goal is to give the community a sneak peek into the new community center Dec. 9, with the town’s Holiday of Lights celebration. Officials are also seeking donations to help finish the project, such as for furnishings, Patterson said.

“We may not be able to do everything we want to do if we don’t receive a little help,” she said.

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Greg Seiter is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal.