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With Latest Phase Complete, Rejuvenated Fairbanks Building Continues Momentum

A former school gymnasium in north Springfield, once in danger of being torn down due to its blighted state, is now a point of pride for the Drew Lewis Foundation and owner Amy Blansit.

Dubbed the “cafa-gym-a-torium” by past inhabitants, this refurbished Fairbanks Elementary School gym is part of the second phase in the quest to turn this former education facility into a community resource center.

Credit Scott Harvey / KSMU
Amy Blansit thanks community members for their support prior to Wednesday's ribbon cutting.

Blansit, Foundation board members and roughly 100 citizens joined to view a ribbon cutting Wednesday to highlight the construction progress.

“The families we serve have reciprocity. They’re here, they’re involved, they’re engaged in this community and what we do. It’s not just a handout. And so it’s a special thing that someone who’s coming here is looking for a betterment opportunity and we look for every means and ways to provide that,” said Blansit.  

Phase II also included the development of a large daycare wing with one larger and two smaller rooms for children. The renovated kitchen is named in honor of Blansit’s late husband, Drew Lewis. Crews had renovated the building’s library during Phase I last year.

A once boarded up building now plays host to weekly community gatherings that include dinner, life skills programs and spiritual discussions.

Michael King, his wife Jerinda, and their three children have lived across the street from the Fairbanks for seven months, witnessing most of the renovations first hand. They’ve become volunteers to the building’s upgrades and participants in its events.

“There’s an organization and a group and a place for people in need to come to. It’s a great feeling to be involved in that and to do our part, whatever it is we can, to help,” King said.

Credit Scott Harvey / KSMU
Jeremy Hahn with Life 360 church helps facilitate events at the Fairbanks each Sunday evening.

Each Thursday evening, community members gather for a dinner at 5:30 pm, followed by an interactive event or listening session geared toward building life skills or dispute resolution, for example.  On Sundays, the dinner and subsequent event is hosted by Life 360 church.

“Beyond the space, it’s the people that walk in and out of these doors each and every day. The countless hours, like Amy said, scraping paint and sweeping floors and putting paint on the walls; it’s been amazing how many hours have gone into this,” says the church’s Jeremy Hahn. “It is a beautiful thing to see a community come together and make a space beautiful once again.”

Since plans to renovate the building began three years ago, there’ve been numerous fundraisers and volunteer assistance to bring the building to its current state. Officials say last semester citizens, including several university students, helped contribute 200-400 volunteer hours each month to the project.  

Renovation of the old school house building on the north end will be the third and final phase in The Fairbanks’ project.

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