BRANDON — For close to six decades the Rotary Club of Brandon has bounced from place to place to hold its weekly noon meetings.
As the membership — which stands at 66 — has grown over the years, the more difficult it's become to find a suitable gathering site, preferably at a restaurant to comfortably conduct business while enjoying a mid-day meal.
"As most in the community can attest to, there are not many meeting places in Brandon, especially to accommodate a club like ours," said Roger Rivard, a 25- year member of the club.
So a couple of years ago he and a host of his fellow Rotarians put their heads, hearts and financial resources together in search of a permanent home of their own.
"We knew we could not afford the real estate on State Road 60, but we needed a place that had the parking and the space for at least 100 people," Rivard said.
After raising about $300,000 and looking at several sites, club members decided to convert an unoccupied home at 3007 S Kings Ave. into the Rivard-Simmons Rotary Event Center. It's located on the northeast corner of Ronele Drive between Lumsden Road and W Bloomingdale Avenue.
The cost of the almost 50-year-old home was $285,000, but the major makeover that has followed adds up to almost a $600,000 investment, for which there is virtually no remaining debt, Rivard said.
That's thanks to the generosity of numerous club members who stepped up to the plate with cash donations and in-kind contributions.
Rivard and his wife, Kimberly, gave $50,000, as did the Simmons Family Foundation in recognition of its patriarch, George Simmons, a long-standing member of the Brandon Rotary Club.
Hence, the facility's name.
JBD Construction, Larson Plumbing, Ace Heating and Air Conditioning, Quality Pre-Cast and Cox Electric companies, most of whose owners are Brandon Rotarians, contributed materials and labor free or at minimal costs.
JBD Construction owner John Dwyer, who's been in the club for 20-plus years, pulled the required permits for the project and was involved in hiring the sub-contractors.
"It's been a big undertaking and a lot of people have really stepped up to help create a legacy for the club in our community," said Dwyer, who charged the club nothing for the many hours he devoted to the endeavor.
Workers removed most of the interior walls, installed new ceilings and enlarged the structure's footprint in the rear by about 30 percent, creating a total space of close to 5,000 square feet.
Planners from the club also carved out 38 parking spaces at the back of the property and allowed for additional parking on an adjoining grassy area. Plus, they made certain that drivers have easy in-and-out access to and from the property via Ronele Drive and South Kings Avenue.
The renovation of the building's interior included creating a main meeting and dining area meant to accommodate about 100 people as well as a separate boardroom, both with their own audio visual equipment.
Additionally there is a kitchen, a members' lounge for casual get-togethers and handicapped accessible men's and ladies' restrooms.
The facility, which is in the process of being repainted and tiled inside, also will be home to the Brandon '86 Rotary Club and available for other organizations to rent for functions. For more information, send an email to [email protected]
"I've spent a ton of time on this project but I'm very proud of it, not only for our club but for the community," Rivard said.
Sandy Simmons, George's wife, said her husband who suffers from Alzheimer's disease and is in a mental care facility, would be equally pleased to know the club in which he played an active role in for many years is soon to have a home of its own.
"He lived the Rotarian motto, 'Service Above Self' and he would be honored and privileged to know his name, alongside Roger's, whom he respected quite a bit, is being attached to the building," she said. "The whole family is thrilled about it."
The Rivard-Simmons Rotary Event Center is slated to open in mid-to late-April and the Rotary Club of Brandon will host a community open house on May 23.