ARLINGTON -- There were so many cars parked in front of Arlington Elementary School on Monday morning a passerby might have thought school was in session.

However, the town’s only school closed in 2009 and has been transformed into a community center housing the city office, the town’s library, fitness center and several small businesses.

On Monday a larger than usual crowd was on hand, in the former lunchroom, to celebrate receiving the $25,000 check awarded from the State Farm's Neighborhood Assist program for upgrades to the building.

Arlington was one of 40 projects across the U.S. receiving a check for a variety of initiatives, from a hunger relief project in Camden, New Jersey, to helping provide basic necessities for families along the Elk River in West Virginia.

Here in Arlington, the money will go to the community center for such things as updating 50-year-old playground equipment, refurbishing the floors, and updating the kitchen so it can be used commercially by locals wishing to sell and market food items.

The check was awarded to members of the community by T Kinning Pflueger, a State Farm Insurance representative from northeast Kansas.

Dari Ashworth Hilbert has fond memories of growing up in Arlington attending the elementary school. She is a State Farm Insurance agent with her husband, Tom Hilbert, in Seneca. Aware of the grant, she encouraged her mother, Dedria Ashworth, and others on the building committee to apply.

“When your daughter calls and says do it, you do it,” Dedria Ashworth said.

"Chances of actually winning the grant was a pie in the sky sort of thing,” Dari said.

Over 2,000submissions were received and a State Farm review committee narrowed those to 200 finalists. The grantees had a certain time to rally votes electronically. Local residents called on everyone they knew. One woman had a niece in Australia who voted, while a vote came from Afghanistan where a local woman is serving in the National Guard.

Meanwhile, there were no winners in California, Pennsylvania, Missouri or Colorado. But Arlington was one of the 40.

Tom Hilbert said he imagines Arlington might be the smallest town to win. Kansas had four causes in the top 200.

Back when they learned their school, then known as Fairfield East Elementary, was consolidating and closing, the City Council wanted to repurpose the building, said Mayor Jeff Fountain. They paid Fairfield School District $1 for ownership and turned it into the Arlington Community Center.

Fountain attributes the success of the community center to Dedria Ashworth and all the volunteers on the building committee.

"It’s used all the time,” said Fountain. From family reunions and land auctions to competitive basketball games between home school associations, it all equates to hours of volunteer labor for the building committee.

From scrubbing the floors to cleaning the urinals, the volunteers have been keeping the center going for the 450 residents of the community and anyone who wants to rent it for a special occasion.

City Hall, the council chamber, fitness center and the town library take up some of the former classrooms. Meanwhile, two businesses operate in other classrooms - Husband Hay Company and Arlington Mercantile. The mercantile is filled with items from craftspeople from a 50-mile radius, as well antiques all sold on consignment.

The store was the incentive of Ginger Stiggins, librarian, and Kelsi Depew, Community Progress Planner.

Stiggins was principal of the elementary school for 10 years. Now she oversees everything from weekly story hour to keeping the bulletin boards up to date in the hallway.

“I love this building,” Stiggins said. “A lot of people do the work to keep it open.”

The community center is also used as a food bank, distributing free food once a month.

On hand to help celebrate was state Sen. Ed Berger, R-Hutchinson, who congratulated the city for its positive initiative and thanked State Farm for helping to make it happen.

Scott Burnett, Kansas City, was also in the crowd. He had returned home to visit his mother, Frances Burnett, and to be present for the special occasion.

“This is my old grade school," Burnett said,"and I am happy it’s here for future generations."