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Expected to be finished around mid-summer, the project will create a new culinary enrichment center for catering and classes

SUBMITTED RENDERING - An artist rendering shows a classroom that will be constructed in the Chehalem Cultural Center's new culinary enrichment center.

The Chehalem Cultural Center has broken ground on a large renovation project that will add a slew of new features to the building.

According to Sean Andries, executive director for the center, the renovations will create a culinary enrichment program.

"It's a very exciting reality," he said.

The renovations are being partially funded by a $200,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. That grant is being used to establish a culinary enrichment center on the first floor; construction on that began March 11.

"From helping refugees find community and build a home to supporting vulnerable children to addressing the mental health needs of our neighbors, these grants represent the critical work that countless nonprofits, corporate foundations, family foundations and volunteers are coming together with representatives of the business, government, health care, faith and education sectors to address in creative and sustainable ways," Steve Moore, the trust's executive director, said when the grant was announced.

The trust, which announced the grants this winter, totaled about $3 million to more than a dozen organizations in the greater Portland area, and $11 million to nearly 50 projects total.

The CCC project was designed by Scott Edwards Architecture, along with input from many involved community members and will be constructed by DGS General Construction.

Andries said DGS was one of three bidders on the project and all the bids came in at prices lower than what was initially expected.

"We are still definitely seeking donors and people who want to get involved in furnishing the room," he said, adding that things like refrigerators and dishwashers will help the space not only be a great place for catering, but also a great classroom, too.

The culinary enrichment center, which will fill the last unfinished space on the first floor, is slated to open this summer. However, Andries said with any large renovation, the schedule is flexible.

"The project schedule they gave us leaves us plenty of room," he said.

The project was also funded by a $250,000 grant from the city's transient lodging tax. Funds are still being raised to furnish the center. Andries said initially, they expected the cost of the renovations to be $500,000. However, the estimate later came back at $864,000. He said between the grants and individual fundraising, they were able to raise "in excess" of that figure.

"It certainly takes an entire town full of people to put a project like this together," he said.

The culinary enrichment center will provide staging areas for caterers and others to prep and serve food in local venues. There will also be a multi-purpose room that can be used as a staging area, and a secluded bride room to be used during weddings. It will also provide culinary classes, as well as more restrooms and capacity for events such as the upcoming Camellia Festival and the Tunes on Tuesday summer concert series.

Andries said while more bathroom space isn't all that exciting, it will definitely help for those events.

Formerly Central Elementary School, built in 1935, the CCC opened in 2010. Once this project wraps up, Andries said they will have completed renovations on about two-thirds of the 50,000 square-foot-building. Eventually, the project will take on the remainder of the second floor, where a theater needs renovations, as do a dance studio and conference center.

"You start a project like this and it's a wild idea," he said.

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