Master Gardeners help renovate conference, civic space in rural Miami, Arizona

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The University of Arizona's Gila County Master Gardeners traveled to Miami, Ariz. in search of a potential conference venue and left with renovation plans for an historic gymnasium. The Master Gardeners, in partnership with the Town of Miami and their local Cooperative Extension office, took on a project which may bring more events and tourists to the town and provide a reliable venue for future Master Gardener events.

When the Gila County Master Gardeners of the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences were scouting for a venue last year for the 14th Annual Arizona Highlands Garden Conference, they visited Miami's Bullion Plaza Museum, formerly a historic school, but deemed it too small.

The Master Gardeners asked Miami Mayor Rosemary Castaneda to show them the school's old gymnasium space. Initially she was embarrassed; the gym was shabby and unkempt, but she opened its doors anyway.

In December 2012, Chris Jones, associate agent with Gila County Cooperative Extension, the Master Gardeners, Castaneda, and the Town of Miami discussed the possibility of an informal partnership to renovate the space for future conferences and other civic events. Town leaders felt confident they could apply for grants and schedule renovations quickly enough to ensure the gym would be ready in time for the conference, planned for October 12, 2013. The partnership became an opportunity to help the downtown area of Miami develop economically.

"The Master Gardeners were really the instrument that caused us to go after the grant money and renovations," Castaneda commented.

The conference date gave the town a tangible, immediate incentive to include in grant proposals sent to local mining companies: Freeport McMoRan, BHP Copper Company, Carlotta Mine and Resolution Copper Company. The Phoenix Suns and Arizona Public Service also accepted grant proposals. To date, Miami has received $420,000 in grant funding and electrical upgrades, solely for the renovation of the gym. The Master Gardeners have supplied the labor. They have helped paint the gym and design and install an outdoor sitting space with shade trees and pavers.

By September 2013, the Bullion Plaza gym began to undergo a massive renovation, including a new roof and cooling system, kitchen, bathrooms, floor, lights and scoreboard. The Phoenix Suns joined the Town of Miami in a dedication celebration on October 23.

"Truly, if it had not been for Master Gardeners and their excitement as to what could be done; we would not be where we are right now," Said Mayor Castaneda. "They're a very exciting bunch. The Master Gardeners have worked closely with me and constantly check in on the progress being made."

Tara Celentano, an Americorps VISTA volunteer working with Gila County Cooperative Extension, graciously contributed to the preparation of this article.

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