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American Legion hall upgrades courtesy of Uncle Sam?
• $2 million from senator
City officials are hopeful that they can obtain $2 million in federal funds to upgrade the Ceres American Legion Memorial Building at the corner of Ninth and Lawrence streets. - photo by Jeff Benziger

The city of Ceres is seeking a $2 million in federal funds to upgrade the Ceres American Legion Memorial Building.

If awarded, the funds could be used for a new heating and air conditioning system, flooring, painting, interior furnishings, landscaping, and parking lot improvements to comply with ADA requirements.

City Manager Doug Dunford suggested that it seems like the city “neglected it over the last few years.”

Working with the city to snag the funds is Capital Advocacy Partners, the Washington, D.C. firm hired by the city in July, 2023. The contract with the Washington, D.C. based company costs $5,600 per month, or $67,200 for the year.

Dunford said the funds being pursued are not grant funds but are “contingency monies” through U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler.

According to a staff report “the building has lacked upkeep” and is “being under-utilized by the city.”

Dunford suggested that the hall located at Ninth and Lawrence streets could be used as a heating center in the winter and a cooling center in the summer as well as a secondary rental location for smaller attended meetings.

On Monday the Ceres City Council voted to approve a letter of support to be presented to decision makers. The letter read, in part, that “The proposed renovation project will not only enhance the physical infrastructure of the building but also improve the quality and accessibility of the services provided. This is significant since the building was originally constructed in the 1950s and has not received any major upgrades or renovations since.”

However, the city overstated the age of the building by about 30 years in using the 1950s date in its letter. The city had the hall built from 1984 to 1985 after the American Legion sold its old hall and parcel to the city for $1 in exchange for guaranteed free use of the center.

Recently the city used federal ARPA funds to replace the center’s refrigerator and stove/oven.

Steven Whitney, the secretary/treasurer of the Ceres Post of the American Legion, said his group is supportive of the seeking of the grant. He took issue with the city’s staff report calling the building the Veteran of Foreign Wars (VFW)/American Legion Hall community project.

“We respectfully ask that all correspondence, both internal and external, use the name of the facility as designated by the Ceres City Council via the resolution 97-126, the American Legion Memorial Building,” said Whitney.

Vice Mayor Bret Silveira said he’s excited about the prospect of making improvements.

“Whoever found this (money), congratulations on great work,” said Silveira. “This is going to be a huge improvement to that facility.”

Councilman James Casey was opposed to the letter but did not state why.

The public entrance to the Ceres American Legion Memorial Building. - photo by Jeff Benziger