Village of Elk Creek, Nebraska, and its water tower. (Courtesy of Elk Creek Village Board)
LINCOLN — It’s been a half-century since the tiny Nebraska village of Elk Creek has witnessed the rise of a new public building.
But after a few years of seeking state assistance, the farm town in southeast Nebraska is set to construct a community center, a pivotal development made possible with a grant announced Tuesday.
The $333,000 award is part of $1.94 million the Nebraska Department of Economic Development will dole out to five of the state’s smaller communities from the Community Development Block Grant program.
“A big boost in the arm,” is what Arlin Beethe called the grant that will fund the new town hall at First and Ash Streets. Beethe is village clerk, president of the rural fire board and a former member of the Village Board.
Public works projects
Administered by the Nebraska DED, CDBG funds come from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, and in this round are intended for public works enhancements.
Other grant recipients are: Village of Craig, $433,000 for a street improvement project; Village of Newcastle, $433,000 for sidewalk, curb and other repairs; City of Superior, $433,000 for park improvements; City of Schuyler, $309,360, to convert two parking lots into a park and an amphitheater.
The funded communities demonstrated collaboration and a “strategic approach to community development within their project designs,” a DED statement said. Beethe said it was the third time that Elk Creek had applied for the competitive grant funding.
It isn’t very often anything new gets built in a lot of these little towns. – Greg Bates, member of village board
It isn’t very often anything new gets built in a lot of these little towns.
– Greg Bates, member of village board
In Elk Creek, the new community center will provide a home for events that bring together residents of the town and the surrounding farming community. (Though its official population is less than 100, officials say users of town services grow to as many as 300 when one counts the surrounding farmsteads.)
For years, village service clubs and organizations have held their big community to-dos, such as the annual BBQ, inside the fire hall that was built in the mid-1970s, said Beethe and Village Board member Greg Bates.
Volunteers relocate the fire trucks to a secure spot while the BBQ is going on.
Weather permitting, other activities such as the street dance are held outside.
“It isn’t very often anything new gets built in a lot of these little towns,” said Bates.
Kathryn Gottula, who has lived in Elk Creek most of her 72 years (her husband was longtime fire chief), said the new facility will have handicapped accessible restrooms that are lacking in the old fire hall. “That’ll be a big, big thing for us,” she said.
$1.1 billion mining project nearby
While growth has been stagnant in the village south of Tecumseh, Gottula said she and others are awaiting a spurt that could come from a long-discussed mining project nearby: NioCorp’s Elk Creek superalloy materials facility.
NioCorp announced last year it was entering into agreements that could lead to millions of dollars more investment in its proposed $1.1 billion project. The underground mine would extract niobium, scandium, titanium and “rare earth” elements that, the company said, represent ingredients vital to greenhouse gas-reducing technologies.
“Hopefully there will be people coming here to work and to live,” said Gottula. “That’s a really huge and awesome thing.”
Beethe said that the proposed mining project, and talk of 450 possible jobs, likely had a hand in positioning Elk Creek for the community center grant.
NioCorp’s leadership was among supporters who wrote letters urging the DED to award the community center grant, Beethe said, noting how area business also could benefit from the amenity.
Meanwhile, Bates and Beethe said the town, for now, is well known for its signature cocktail: Elk Creek Water, which includes a few sweet soft drink flavors plus gin and vodka splashes.
“One gal said it tasted like lemonade with happiness inside,” said Bates.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, the town’s water tower beckons visitors with the words: Elk Creek Water.
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