The Houlton Band of Maliseets unveils their newly expanded and renovated community center Wednesday, Sept. 14. Showing off the center are, from left, Josh McLaughlin of J. McLaughlin Construction; Rosa McNally, grant writer and project manager for HBMI; and Jessie Chase of Buildings Etc. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine – For years, an outdated and slowly deteriorating gymnasium has served as the gathering place for members of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians.

With inadequate kitchen and bathroom space, the center was in dire need of a makeover. That makeover is one step closer to fruition, thanks to the efforts of many local contractors.

The band competed on a regional level for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program and received funding for the project. Maliseet officials unveiled the progress made on the new Community Center last week, showing what they hope will become a safer, expanded epicenter for all tribal gatherings as well as an emergency shelter.

The total project cost — between grant funds, tribal cash and in-kind leveraging — was over $1.3 million.

“The HBMI’s Community Center has been the Tribe’s focal point for most activities since its construction in the early 1990s,” said  Rosa McNally, grant writer and project manager for the band. “This center hosts the tribe’s federal recognition celebration days, Head Start physical fitness and graduation, health fairs, and is a gathering place for families after tribal funerals.”

The center has also served as the location for staff training seminars, after school activities, Boys and Girls Club activities and cultural training classes, as well as the popular bingo nights. Other than housing, the center is the most-used facility in the community.

Renovations to the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians’ Community Center are nearly complete. The year-long project included a 2,400-square-foot addition to the building as well as a complete renovation to its interior. (Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times)

The new 6,300-square-foot building includes an addition, which allowed for the creation of an entirely new kitchen area and conference room. The building was also rehabbed to include a new floor, ceiling, sprinkler system, upgraded heating and cooling units, improved electrical and the addition of a new fire alarm system.

“HBMI is pleased first and foremost to meet the needs of its citizens and, while doing so, providing a local economic spinoff for contractors, sub-contractors and various suppliers for building materials and maintenance for contractors’ equipment for the surrounding Houlton community,” McNally said.

Reconstruction of the center was done by Buildings Etc. of Houlton, along with J. McLaughlin Construction.

“The previous structure did not have a sprinkler system, so we had to bring in a new water line, as well as an underground propane line,” Josh McLaughlin said.

Jessie Chase of Buildings Etc. said his company built the original structure back in the 1990s and was therefore able to access the original blueprints.

“We were able to easily add on the extension, based on the original drawings,” he said.

The center also added two multi-stall handicap-accessible bathrooms, whereas before there were only two single bathrooms.

The 2,400-square-foot expansion accommodates a commercial kitchen to meet culinary codes and could potentially be used by the tribe for its own culinary arts program. The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians received a grant for $50,000 to outfit the kitchen with new commercial kitchen equipment, which is expected to be delivered later this fall.

“Community gatherings with food and family is a strong cultural tradition of the Maliseets, and the new kitchen allows for food preparation and potlucks,” McNally said.

Previously, the kitchen was small at about 120 square feet and resembled more of a snack shack with a residential stove and refrigerator.

“And when citizens brought in crock pots, it would trip the circuit breaker,” McNally said.

The tribe has worked on the plan for this rehab and expansion since 2017 and met with the Region Two Career and Technical Education Center in Houlton to see their commercial set up and receive recommendations.

“This facility is also categorized under the emergency management program as the tribe’s Emergency Shelter equipped with a generator,” McNally said. “HBMI also constructed a 2,400-square-foot storage unit to store PPE and emergency management supplies.”