By JUDY SHERARD
PALCO -- Everett McKenna, a Palco High School graduate, wanted area youngsters to have a place to go.
"He talked to me for several years about wanting a youth center," said Freda Lambert, Palco mayor and McKenna's lifelong friend. "He kept saying, 'Fritz, work it up (and) let me know how much it will cost.' Of course, you always think you have tomorrow."
When he died in 2009 at age 63, McKenna left the greater part of his estate to the city of Palco for the youth center, Lambert said.
There was enough for construction costs and ongoing operating costs.
That galvanized Lambert and others to get to work on the McKenna Youth Activity Center.
The Main Street property where the center is located is owned by the city.
"We vacated a portion of Douglas Street so that (the youth center) could be connected to our basketball courts and our horseshoe pit, and our park could all be part of the youth center," said Ashley Kuhn, Palco city clerk.
Local kids were surveyed to see what they'd like to have in the facility, Lambert said.
The 8,200-square-foot building cost a little more than $1.2 million to build, Kuhn said.
Cornerstone Building and Design was the general contractor.
Construction began in August and is finishing this month, said Quinn Krehbiel, project manager.
"It's been a good project. All the finishing touches are coming together. We're excited to see it come to town," Krehbiel said.
The building includes a fitness room, theater, teen room, kitchen and multi-purpose room.
Youth will have priority in the building use, but it also will be available to the community.
Area residents can purchase low-cost memberships in the fitness room, which will have a walking track, treadmills, ellipticals, recumbent bikes and weight machines. The floors will be covered with a half-inch rubberized material.
The fitness room can be closed off from the rest of the facility, and keyless entry will allow members to use it at their convenience.
Plans are to show current movies on weekends in the 72-seat theater. The theater features 3D capabilities and surround sound. It also offers a venue to hold high school forensics contests.
Youngsters can gather in the teen room to play pool and other games, or just lounge and watch the 55-inch TV.
Jennifer Ruff, who will graduate from Fort Hays State University this spring, has been hired as facility coordinator.
"The coordinator has a range of activities planned for weekends and after-school activities," Kuhn said.
A lounge area just inside the front door will have "a couple of laptops kids can check out and use," Lambert said.
Lambert plans to have youth cooking classes in the working kitchen equipped with two stoves, a large refrigerator and three sinks.
"I like to cook. ... Every time I see a recipe for kids to do, I tear it out and put it in a notebook," Lambert said.
The kitchen also will serve as a concession area for movie nights.
Sewing classes also are on the schedule.
"They took home-ec out of the school here. I'm a quilter, so I want to teach the kids to sew. People have been donating sewing machines and fabric, so they can make a simple throw," Lambert said.
Beyond the multi-purpose room, there's a patio and playgrounds, making it ideal to rent for family gatherings.
One area of the playground is suitable for ages 2 to 5, with another area for older children.
An advisory board is responsible for the center's administration. Members are Don Steeples, Lisa Gehring, Dennis Balthazor, Ashley Kuhn, Leonard Marcott, Leo Vonfeldt and Lambert as mayor.
"The main goal is to keep it occupied, keep it busy," Lambert said of the center.
The ribbon cutting and official opening is Memorial Day weekend, with a number of activities planned.
Lambert said McKenna would be pleased with his legacy to the town where he grew up.
"Everett loved children. He just never had any children of his own," she said.