July 21, 2011 |

Rec center could make October ballot

A vote to measure demand for a community recreation center could join a potentially crowded ballot in October, but a decision on the future of the building targeted to house the facility might not wait that long.

Steve Vick of the Haines Borough Assembly requested for a community center feasibility study to be a discussion item at the July 12 assembly meeting. He said the question of whether to fund the study could be addressed during the October municipal election.

"I think there’s a few surveys out there that are showing general support of the idea of a community center, and I know we’ve talked about it at this level quite a few times, but I think it would be something good to have on the ballot," Vick said.

A community recreation center has been proposed for the old elementary gymnasium, spared from demolition last year.

Assembly member Joanne Waterman said she’d like to discuss the future of the building before October.

"The longer it sits there, the worse condition it gets in," Waterman said. "It’s sat there empty for a year now, unheated and not taken care of, and I don’t know how many more years it can do, so I would like to see some costs of what it would do to finish tearing it down, and have that for discussion at the next meeting," on Tuesday, July 26.

Member Scott Rossman said he agreed with Waterman.

"I was just thinking to myself how many times I’ve said that right there in the last seven years," he said.

The assembly in recent weeks has shown interest in placing the borough’s 1 percent municipal sales tax designated for tourism promotion and economic development on the ballot, and some residents are attempting to recall assembly members Vick, Waterman and Daymond Hoffman. All of those votes could be taken up in October.

Vick said a public vote on the community recreation center would show "where the community stands."

The assembly has considered the ballot language for eliminating the designation of a sales tax for tourism promotion and economic development. Members had a similar discussion about a vote related to a community recreation center.

"Whether it needs to be worded as a feasibility study or an advisory vote or what would be the best way to introduce it or to word it on the ballot to get the information we want, I think is kind of why I want to have this discussion, too," Vick said.

Borough manager Mark Earnest said the ballot language could be comparable to, "Would you be willing to finance through some tax the construction of a facility like that?"

Earnest said "grant funds are virtually impossible to get" for recreation centers.

"If residents of the borough really want this, they’ve got to realize that it’s probably going to come from their own pockets," Waterman said.

She referred to community opinion surveys collected as part of an update to the borough’s comprehensive plan. Respondents ranked a community recreation center and road improvements as the most important projects.

"I don’t mind asking the voters questions, but I guess the survey that was done for the comprehensive plan, I felt, gave a good indicator of where the community’s feelings are with this, and I guess I’m not sure what more information a vote’s going to get us," Waterman said.

The assembly in January approved $14,442 for MRV Architects of Juneau to coordinate a "programming" study of expected usage for a community recreation center proposed for the old elementary gymnasium and adjoining classroom space.

"There is a programming effort that’s underway, and we have some preliminary information back, but I don’t think it really went to the core of what the question was, and that was to develop some cost estimates and some basic, sort of, guidelines in terms of what the interpretation of the needs are," Earnest said.

A February 2010 MRV report estimated the cost at about $3.3 million for around 17,000 square feet.

Earnest said the borough also would have ongoing operating costs, because "10 percent is what you can expect to recover, for fees, membership dues and that sort of thing, if it’s a recreation facility" as a "rule of thumb."

"I’ve been in communities where we’ve built large community facilities, recreation centers, and a 30,000-square-foot facility out in Unalaska, and there was a lot of support for the project, there was a lot of expectation that user fees were going to cover a significant portion of the operating cost, and it turned out to be that was not the case," he said.

Rossman said he would like to see data from Skagway and other communities that have recreation centers.

The Skagway Recreation Center opened in 2001 in an old school gymnasium and currently has a $250 annual membership fee for individuals.

According to information Katherine Nelson, Skagway Recreation Center director, provided the Chilkat Valley News in February, the operating budget of $338,566 for fiscal year 2011 included: salaries, $189,537; employee payroll expenses, $70,029; utilities, $45,000; repairs and maintenance, $15,000; contract labor, $7,000; administration, $5,000; equipment, $4,000; and travel/training, $3,000.