Legends of the Fallon
Oats Park Art Center
The Oats Park Art Center in Fallon has received a grant of $779,587 from the E.L. Wiegand Foundation of Reno, and Valerie Serpa, the center’s executive director, is glad she had her ducks in a row when the opportunity arose, or it might not have happened.
Rewind to 2008. The art center had been open five years and was gaining momentum. Gallery exhibits received accolades, and music performances often sold out. The Nevada Commission for Cultural Affairs awarded the Churchill Arts Council a grant to help rehabilitate the building, formerly Oats Park Elementary School, built in 1914. The school had been open until the 1970s, so many people in the community still have a strong connection to the building. (Serpa’s mother and grandmother attended grade school there.) It was becoming a favored venue for community gathering. However, the kitchen facility would need upgrading to handle the growing event roster. Plans were drafted, and the grant funds were earmarked for renovation.
“Over the years we’ve received quite a lot of money from [the state],” said Serpa. This time, however, the recession hit the state’s coffers, and the funds were never disbursed. “It happened to all the grantees in that particular season,” she said.
Fast forward to 2014. Serpa received a call from Kristen Avancino, president and executive director of the Wiegand Foundation. Typically with granting organizations, it’s up to the grant seeker to submit an application, but with the Wiegand Foundation, they call you.
Serpa believes that the reason for the call was, “They’re familiar with us, and they’re familiar with what we do. Mrs. Avancino said she likes that we do things in a planned, dogmatic, fiscally responsible manner.” Elaborating on “fiscally responsible,” she cited a comprehensive feasibility study conducted by the center’s parent organization, Churchill Arts Council, before it opened, and additional sources of funding such as memberships, concerts ticket sales and fundraising drives.
“We had these plans in place a long time ago,” Serpa said. “Thank goodness! Because Mrs. Avancino called me in November. She said, ’Do you have a project for us?’ I said, ’Yes.’ She asked us to put together an application and get it to them by the end of December. We had a design. We knew what the rooms were going to look like. We had an architectural drawing. If we hadn’t had those original plans all in place, we may not have been able to take advantage of this opportunity.”
The funds will be used to renovate and furnish the catering kitchen and dining area, adjacent to a courtyard. “People use it for weddings, wakes, birthday parties, class reunions,” Serpa said.
The pre-renovation kitchen could be cumbersome for caterers. Steve Hernandez, owner of The Slanted Porch restaurant in Fallon, catered a 40-year class reunion there a few weeks ago. “We had to set up a mobile kitchen outside, so that everything had to be schlepped down the walkway into that little courtyard,” he said.
Serpa said Hernandez was a valuable advisor. He made recommendations such as reordering the flow of kitchen traffic and moving the walk-in refrigerator closer to the bar, making for shorter, easier-to-clean tap lines. “The quality of your beer should improve,” Hernandez said with authority.
Serpa expects the renovations to be finished this year. She hasn’t yet set dates for official groundbreaking or completion, but construction, contracted to Hammon Construction of Fallon, is coming along. “We’re working on it to get final approval from state health inspector. We’ve got windows in,” she said. A concept drawing depicts the space as a sleek, airy, café-like room with large, square windows looking out to the courtyard.
Serpa is also planning a community-wide open house, date to be announced.