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Right Start launches Hancock Community Hub

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Right Start UP board members Sara Lahti, Meena Muthu and Christine Clark are seen in the auditorium of the Hancock Community Hub. The Hancock non-profit purchased the first three floors of the Hirvonen Hall building for use by various community groups and activities.

HANCOCK — The former educational building in the heart of downtown Hancock will continue to be used by community groups.

On June 6, the Hancock nonprofit Right Start UP purchased the first three floors of 417 Quincy St.

Built in 1923 to house Hancock Central High School, its most recent primary use was as Finlandia University’s Hirvonen Hall.

As a tip of the hat to the original users, the building will again be known as HCH — the Hancock Community Hub.

The group plans to lease spaces that fit its vision of adding value to the community through education, wellness, fitness and creative expression.

It will also reserve several spaces to rent to community groups for a fee: the gym, the auditorium, a larger multi-purpose room, the conference room and a workshop/classroom space.

But the goal is for everything else to be leased out. So far, there is one confirmed tenant, who is taking half of one wing, said Right Start Secretary Sara Lahti.

“There are large offices, small offices,” she said. “there’s an area that could be licensed as a childcare center. There’s a storage area with a loading dock. We would like as many applications as possible, because now’s the time.”

“We’ve had a lot of groups express interest in different spaces, but nothing has been set yet,” said Christine Clark, the board’s chair and treasurer.

Lahti singled out a large multi-room space with adjacent offices, which could be used as a child-care center. Taking into account state requirements for square footage, one room could hold up to 24 pre-schoolers, while the room directly below it could be used for another 35. Addressing one of the biggest needs, another room could be used for as many as 22 infants and toddlers.

“This could really help with availability, because one of the hardest things with infants and toddlers is you need more square footage for childcare space,” Lahti said. “This would be a big open area that would enable some group to take in a lot of babies. There’s a huge waitlist. It’s a big problem. So we hope somebody takes us up on that.”

Right Start would take care of getting the spaces ready for licensing by the state, getting them move-in ready for whatever child care center came in, Lahti said.

The first lease starts July 1. Many of the spaces are move-in ready, having been occupied recently by Finlandia, Lahti said.

“We’re willing to do build-outs and things or work with people if they want to do build-outs, so that’s also a possibility,” Lahti said.

The effort started last summer, when Right Start applied for a state community center grant. They consulted with other local groups such as the Keweenaw Community Foundation and Keweenaw CAPE.

“They thought, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be great if somebody submitted an application to put a community center in this building,’ and we’re like, ‘We can try for it,'” said Lahti

The group put in six weeks of research, networking, getting letters of recommendation and putting together plans for what would go in the building.

While they didn’t get a grant, they were determined to make it happen anyway, looking for private financing, Lahti said.

Her brother, Andrew Lahti, had also been helpful in reaching out to people and finding partners, she said.

Members of Right Start are excited about launching the new space for the community.

“I just moved to the area two years ago, and I see this as a great opportunity for me to engage and meet people and bring my kids to classes and programs,” said HCH Project Manager Meena Muthu. “And personally, for me, I feel like I’ll get a lot of benefit from having a community center here.”

Clark noted how much value the community groups on the fourth floor, including Keweenaw CAPE, have added to the community. The new hub supports that, and helps it grow, she said.

“When you’re in a small community like this, sometimes it can be really hard to find a space to be able to offer those kinds of small businesses, and just programs,” she said. “And so we want that for our community, for our kids, to be able to have that going forward.”

Especially when the long winters require events to be held indoors, the Hancock Community Hub could help local groups hold free or low-cost events to bring people together, Lahti said.

In the long-term, Right Start hopes to be able to generate enough income that it can offer or help facilitate some use of spaces that’s free and open to the public.

“Other people have said things like, ‘We don’t have this space that people can just go in and feel like they’re welcome, and it’s their space as much as anybody’s space,'” Lahti said. “…Right away, we’re calling it the Hancock Community Hub, because we want it to feel like an open and inviting place where all kinds of groups can come and do activities.”

Groups interested in leasing a space in the Hancock Community Hub should email hancockcommunityhub@gmail.com or by visiting hchcommunityhub.com.

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