February 10, 2011 |

Old gym: Community or recreation center?

If the Haines Borough moves forward with upgrades to the old elementary gymnasium and adjoining classroom space, will the facility serve as a "community" center, or a "recreation" center?

"I think the initial labeling of the project means a lot later on," resident Michael Ahmuty said at a Friday meeting in the Haines Borough Assembly chambers.

Ahmuty and about 25 other locals attended the meeting in response to a "programming" study by MRV Architects of Juneau that will measure demand for the facility. The assembly last month authorized $14,442 for the study.

Borough facilities director Brad Maynard and Corey Wall, project manager for MRV, led the meeting and explained some options for the building’s future use.

After Ahmuty’s question, Wall said he would call the space a "community center."

"This is going to be a community center for town, whatever would be there," Wall said. " I would say that there’s a range."

He said the site might have more of a recreation focus, with features such as aerobics rooms, a climbing wall, racquetball courts and weightlifting stations. If the facility tilted another direction, Wall said, the classrooms could house art, music and other educational programs.

"They’re not mutually exclusive," said borough manager Mark Earnest. "You really can have a multi-use facility … and you don’t want to exclude the possibility of office lease space, like to government agencies."

Wall met with representatives from the Chilkat Valley Community Foundation, Chilkat Valley Preschool, Community Youth Development, Hammer Museum, KHNS, Haines Borough School District and Well and Fit Community Council for about three hours of separate interviews Saturday morning for additional information on potential use.

"The one thing that people are focusing on, that I heard, is that you’ve got a gym facility that would be hard to duplicate somewhere else, so that seems like that’s pulling the discussion a little bit towards athletics, just because it would be expensive to build a new gym," Wall said.

The building also has been suggested for borough offices, but residents on Friday questioned whether noise from gym activities would interfere with office work.

Wall said his study would look at the interaction of potential user groups in the facility. He eventually will prepare diagrams, conceptual plans and updated cost estimates. A February 2010 MRV report estimated the cost at about $3.3 million for around 17,000 square feet.

Wall said two strengths of the site are its downtown location and room for expansion.

Resident Cindy Jones said the borough needs a long-range plan for buildings, especially as the Chilkat Center is in need of roof repairs and the Southeast Alaska State Fair has renovated Harriett Hall.

"Is there a way we can integrate all of these buildings and have use for all of them?" Jones asked.

Maynard said programming would provide "extra tools" to make a decision on how best to use the old elementary building.

"I just want to make a pitch for the campaign that’s going to be needed by the folks here and the people who want to have a community center to put pressure on our leaders to have a chance for this," resident Joe Parnell said Friday. He later met with Wall to discuss how seniors could benefit.

Maynard said the assembly last year had shown support for a community center when members voted to spare a portion of the old elementary from demolition.

"I think what we’re doing here tonight and with this programming is we’re starting the process to give them the tools to look at doing something with the building, so I don’t think our leaders are against a rec center," Maynard said. "I think they saw that as an opportunity to move forward with one when we saved that portion of the building."

Groups interested in using the proposed facility can contact Maynard at 766-2257.