A new expo center and future home of the Merrill Area Community Enrichment Center, currently under construction at the northeast corner of the Merrill Festival Grounds, is expected to be completed early next summer.
Enrichment Center Director Tammie Mrachek is particularly excited about the project as it will bring the center’s programs above ground for the first time in decades. MACEC, which primarily serves older adults, is currently located in the basement of Merrill City Hall.
The new 20,000-square-foot building will have 12,800 square feet dedicated to the expo center. The remaining southern portion of the building will be home to the Enrichment Center, in addition to a 900-square-foot entry area on the east side of the building.
“This will be a fairly good size for us to operate in,” Mrachek said.
Mrachek and now-retired MACEC Director Jane Deau had long expressed the need for a new location to get the center out of the City Hall basement. After the city acquired the former Lincoln County Fairgrounds and plans were floated for a new expo center on the property, Mrachek saw an opportunity.
“This was combined because there was a need for both,” she said.
MACEC currently serves people from the city of Merrill, along with Lincoln County and the northern part of Marathon County. The number of people who come to the current center averages 100-150 per week, and Mrachek expects that number to grow with the new facility, due to much improved accessibility and visibility.
The biggest problem with the center’s current location is accessibility, especially considering the population it is intended to serve.
“What we hear consistently is people have access issues with the building,” Mrachek said.
The new center will allow ground floor access into the building – no stairs, no elevator – and parking right by the door. The Merrill-Go-Round bus service is also available to provide door-to-door service for Enrichment Center users.
Mrachek is also happy to have the new center located near Pine Crest Nursing Home and Washington Elementary School.
“We will always serve the aging population,” she said, “but we are really expanding intergenerationally.”
Center volunteers already spend time with Washington School students. Intergenerational programs provide mutually beneficial relationships, educational opportunities, social experiences and result in a stronger community, Mrachek noted.
Mrachek sees lots of new possibilities with the change of location.
“This will open us up more as an enrichment center for the community,” she said. “We want to be able to offer things for everybody.”
The expo center will be available to the community for rental, which will most often be on the weekends. During the week, that space will be open to MACEC for activities such as exercise classes. A walking track in the expo center is also on MACEC’s wish list.
“We’ll be able to use the expo center during the week for programming,” Mrachek said. “I’m just thrilled that we’ll be able to offer this to the community.”
The Enrichment Center will include a craft shop, and spaces for sewing, art and crafting. The art and craft room will be one of the biggest spaces in the center, big enough to partition and divide into dedicated areas.
The building’s kitchen will be acessible from both the Enrichment Center and the expo hall.
Mrachek said the new location will allow MACEC to serve the upcoming generations of senior citizens well into the future. It is projected that by 2030 approximately 35 percent of Lincoln County’s population will be age 60 or older.
“The aging demographic is really growing,” she said. “Older people are more active, they want to do and volunteer. We have 150-plus volunteers. That generation is looking to participate and give back to their community.”
The Enrichment Center staff is always open to new ideas for programming and activities, Mrachek said.
“We are really activity focused, and we invite the community to tell us what they want,” she said.
The total cost of the new building is over $1.5 million. Some grants have been secured and fundraising efforts continue with about $330,000 yet to be raised. MACEC is accepting donations in any amount. Donations can be mailed to MACEC, 1004 E. First St., Merrill, or dropped off at the center Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.