Elks Lodge agrees to sell club facility to charter school

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

If all goes as planned, the Sweet Home Elks Lodge will be looking for a new home and Sweet Home Charter School will be moving in.

People Involved in Education, which operates Sweet Home Charter School, have made an offer for the Elks building and the Elks have accepted the offer.

The building is located at the south end of Osage Street south of Highway 20.

Now PIE is putting together financing for the purchase, said Mary Northern, treasurer for the PIE Board.

“They made us an offer, and we have accepted that offer,” said Dennis Bechtel, past exalted ruler of the Sweet Home Elks Lodge. Attorneys representing PIE and the Elks are working out the details of the sale.

The process won’t be complete in time for school to start there this year, Northern said. In the meantime, PIE is willing to work with the Elks to fulfill their obligations, ranging from class reunions to steak dinners for community functions, such the firemen’s steak cookout and the Sportsman’s Holiday Court coronation.

Sweet Home Charter School operates kindergarten through fifth grade at the Church of Christ at 18th and Long. It is delaying opening a sixth grade until the move.

The Charter School is entering its third year under contract with School District 55. The contract will come up for renewal next summer.

While the Charter School needs space to upsize its operation, the Elks need to downsize their operation, officials say.

The Elks building is too large for the current membership to maintain, Bechtel said. The lodge isn’t in financial trouble, but maintaining the current building isn’t financially sustainable.

“For our participation, it’s more building than we could support,” Bechtel said. “We want Sweet Home Lodge 1972 to succeed. The only way we can keep the lodge going is move to a new location.”

The Elks have close to 400 members. Many are inactive or live out of town. About 100 or so are active, and the lodge maintains a core of 20 to 25 who are most active.

In October, the Elks membership turned down a proposal to sell the building. In December, the Elks voted again and decided to sell.

The Elks aren’t actively looking for a new building yet, Bechtel said. Upon receipt of earnest money, they will begin to seriously search for a building more suited to their needs, a building that remains large enough to handle the Elks’ community functions.

“We have talked about in the interim period, leasing back the facilities we need,” Bechtel said. PIE has given the Elks a verbal agreement, at this point, to allow the Elks to honor their obligations.

“Certainly, once the children are here, things will change,” Bechtel said.

The Elks will continue in Sweet Home, operating its charitable programs and serving the community, he said.

The Elks started out in Sweet Home in the current VFW building in 1955. The VFW building was originally a skating rink. The current building was built on donated property in 1963 for the Elks, which were established in Swe.

For more information about the Elks, call 367-3559.