Water is leaking from the ceiling. Bricks on the exterior are crumbling. Entrance doors and restrooms are not handicap-accessible.

Donner Center, a city facility that opened 71 years ago at 739 22nd St., may be near the end of its useful life.

It has been used to host for youth and adult programs in Columbus. Clubs and organizations hold meetings and special events there. And Donner Center is home to the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department.

But the condition of the 23,000-square-foot building is so bad that Mayor Jim Lienhoop a year ago chose to hold his second State of the City address there to let residents see it for themselves.

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The Columbus Park Board, the policy-making authority for the city parks department, agreed in December to invest an estimated $82 million in land and facilities during the next five years. But the new five-year park master plan does not give a specific recommendation about Donner Center, other than pointing out significant maintenance issues that are hampering its use, and concluding that it does not currently meet the community’s need for a fitness or community center.

Based on surveys and community input sessions, consultant Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf recommended that the city develop an indoor recreation and community center. However, the Indianapolis design firm said that if Donner Park were selected as the location for such a facility, it would need significant renovation.

Important decisions such as whether to renovate or raze Donner Center are yet to be made.

“We’re still in the gathering stages of what we need, what we want,” said Mark Jones, the city’s director of parks and recreation.

The 250-page master plan focuses on several recreational concentration areas, including increasing the amount of park land and recreation areas available to Columbus residents; creating a multi-generational hub for indoor recreation, athletics, fitness and programming; continuing to build trail infrastructure; adding more nature offerings; and further investing in the two city-run golf courses.

Jones said the parks and recreation department is reaching out to organizations such as Healthy Communities, the Columbus Area Arts Council and the Foundation for Youth to determine what their needs are. The city hopes to get a better understanding of what potential uses those organizations might have for meetings and programs that could be held at the Donner Center, said Mary Ferdon, executive director of administration and community development with the city.

Feedback also will be sought from the 59 parks department employees who work there. Such additional information will help the city chart a better direction on what should be done with the building, Jones said.

Lienhoop said decisions on the Donner Center will depend on answers to important questions:

Is Donner Center, located within a park three blocks south of 25th Street and three blocks east of Washington Street, the best location for a community recreation center?

How much would it cost to renovate the building, and would that be a good investment?

“We will have to give that some thought,” Lienhoop said. “It will be reviewed like everything else.”

The last significant change for Donner Center was a $1.375 million expansion and remodeling in 1986.

About $450,000 was invested in Donner Center in August 2012 to repair the roof and the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. The parks and recreation department has $20,000 in capital funding set aside this year for planned roof repairs and light improvements of the Donner Park shelter house, said Pam Harrell, director of business services for the parks department.

Limitations, decisions

Besides its maintenance issues, the design of Donner Center — which opened in 1947 — does not have enough flexibility for modern-day programming, Jones said.

That has become apparent to the Columbus Sunrise Rotary Club, which gathers at 7 a.m. every Friday in the Donner Center multi-purpose room for its meetings.

The layout of the room can make it difficult for everyone to see when presentations are made, due to the columns that obstruct views, said Priscilla Scalf, the club president.

While Donner Center’s central location in Columbus makes it a convenient place to meet, structural problems and configuration issues are negatives, she said.

“It definitely needs renovation,” Scalf said. “A larger space would be wonderful.”

Decisions on renovation or demolition are likely to be reached in the last half of this year, Jones said.

“There are sections we know that need to be torn down and sections that need to be renovated,” Jones said. “It’s been a long process, but we want to do it right.”

Whether the city’s parks and recreation department stays at its current location or is moved elsewhere also must be decided, Jones said.

But no matter what happens with the building, the Donner Aquatic Center will remain at Donner Park, he said.

Facts about Donner Center

  • Named for philanthropist William Donner, a Columbus native, who in 1917 provided land for what is now Donner Park.
  • Opened in 1947 at 739 22nd St., available for youth and adult programs in the community
  • 23,000 square feet of indoor space
  • Underwent $1.375 million renovation in 1986

Source: City of Columbus, Columbus Parks and Recreation Department

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com