Walking through the doors of the Seymour Chamber of Commerce building in downtown Seymour is like stepping back 36 years into time.
That’s because no interior renovations have taken place at the historic Farmers Club building at 105 S. Chestnut St. since 1985 when the chamber took over ownership.
The same pinkish-mauve carpet covered the floors, the old incandescent lights did little to lighten up the dark space and it just wasn’t the most inviting place for people to gather, socialize and network.
But all of that is about to change.
Chamber President Dan Robison and his staff have embarked on a project to transform the inside of the 108-year-old building into a more functional space to serve chamber members and the community.
The inside of the building is getting a makeover that includes new flooring, new lighting, new furniture and even the addition of a coffee bar.
“There was some discussion last year on our board about starting to invest some in the facility,” Robison said.
Basically, since 1985, the chamber has done what it has had to do to remain in the building, like roof repair and changing out the HVAC system.
“Things that broke, we fixed,” he said.
But nothing has been done to improve the aesthetic until now.
“We figured it was time for an update,” Robison said.
In January, the chamber finance committee and board of directors made the decision to go ahead with the project.
“I proposed to them a three-stage plan,” he said. “The first stage is the lobby. It’s what people see.”
Phase 2 will be the middle of the building, which includes the bathroom and kitchen area, and the third phase is the boardroom.
There are no specific plans yet for Phase 2 and 3, but Robison wanted to have a roadmap to take the project in the right direction.
The board approved Robison’s proposal and a budget of $30,000 for the first phase. The chamber has received some donations for the project, including from new member BSM Groups and Joe and Rose Miller. Rose works for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Indiana, which is located next door to the chamber.
“I thought that was really sweet,” Robison said. “As our neighbor, she saw the value of the project and wanted to help.”
Also, local businesses that are chamber members are providing special pricing on materials, he said.
“That allows us to stretch our dollars a little bit more,” he said.
The first item to tackle has been the lighting. After bidding out the project to all electricians who are chamber members, they went with Bode Electric, which offered the best pricing.
“So we partnered with them on a solution,” Robison said.
That solution included changing out the old can lights and installing LED inserts.
“It’s cheaper, makes them more cost effective, more energy efficient and you can tell the difference,” Robison said. “It’s just so much brighter in here already.”
LED light bars also have been ordered and will be installed in the faux skylights, he added. The existing fixtures were so old they could not be retrofitted.
“That will even brighten it more,” he said.
With the lighting underway, Robison moved on to the flooring, pulling up the old mauve carpet himself.
Originally, they were hoping to be able to save the terrazzo that was underneath the carpet, but that wasn’t going to be possible.
“A terrazzo expert came in and looked at it and told us it was not cost effective to try,” Robison said.
Like the lighting, they bid the new flooring out to chamber members and chose Carpet One to install a vinyl plank flooring that resembles stone tile instead of wood. Installation will take place the first week of May.
Robison said with all of the original woodwork in the building, he didn’t think a wood floor was needed, too.
“It will be durable. It’s cost effective,” he said of the flooring choice. “It will look nice without spending a lot of money for actual ceramic tile.”
Keeping costs down is important as the chamber is a nonprofit organization and operates on memberships, donations and fundraisers.
“We want to be responsible for what we’re spending,” he said.
As for carpentry work, the chamber brought in Mark Frische, who took down an interior wall and moved it back 8 feet, opening up the lobby more.
The only sacrifice was Robison’s office shrunk by 8 feet, but he doesn’t mind.
“It made my office a little smaller, but honestly, it didn’t really serve a practical purpose anyway,” he said of the lost space. “I would rather give it to the lobby.”
Robison himself did the painting.
“I’m trying to do as much as I can to help out, try to keep the costs down,” he said.
The chamber design committee is assisting with the interior decorating, choosing colors and picking out furniture and other furnishings. That committee is made up of chamber employees Dee Smith and Sasha Norman, Rhonda Frische, Amy Cockerham and Jill Glover.
“They have really put in countless hours and have such an eye for knowing what looks good,” Robison said.
Another part of the project will be cleaning the brick on the fireplace, which is a focal point in the lobby.
Monty Siefker with Clean Right Floor Specialists was hired to do the work.
Another local business, Smitty’s Painting, will paint the interior walls and fix some of the water damage on the walls and ceiling, while Creative Concepts is designing a coffee bar with a countertop, sink and cabinets that will sit along the back wall of the lobby.
The coffee bar is another element to make the space more functional, Robison said.
“This space has never really had a purpose,” he said. “You just walk through it to get to the boardroom. Now, we are envisioning this space to be where people will network, socialize, grab a cup of coffee before or after a meeting, just another space to congregate in or even have small group meetings.”
There also will be a couple of high-top tables near the coffee bar, a couple of conversation chairs near the fireplace and a sofa and more chairs to fill out the lobby.
“It will make it more functional and give it more of a homey space we can actually utilize for the community,” he said.
Some work also is being done to Smith’s office area that will make it a better and more functioning space to work in, including a project counter.
Robison said he is hoping all of the work will be completed by the end of May.
One element that won’t be changed is all of the dark interior woodwork.
“From the old pictures we’ve seen, that was original to the building,” he said. “So we’re just going to leave that alone.”
But they are adding a chandelier to the lobby, which they ordered from Cummings Lighthouse.
“It is the cherry on top of the whole project,” Robison said.
Although they are updating and modernizing the space, Robison said they are being careful to protect the historical integrity of the building.
“I love the history of this building,” he said.
The building was built by M.S. Blish and dedicated to Meedy Shields, to whom Robison is related.
“He married Eliza Ewing, who was sister to my great-great-great grandfather,” he said. “So I call him Uncle Meedy.”
The building is an asset not only to the chamber but to the community, Robison added. And he wants it to be used that way.
When the project is complete, Robison said they are planning to conduct an open house and invite the community to come see the final product.
“What we’re really doing here is bringing the building back closer to its original purpose,” he said. “It was meant to be a place where people can come, enjoy and gather, and that’s what we’re trying to recreate now, a space where people can do that.”
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Anyone interested in supporting the Seymour Chamber of Commerce renovation project can email [email protected].