August 25, 2011 |

Borough to halt rec center study, pursue planning

The Haines Borough will halt a $14,442 study aimed at determining the need for a recreation center in Haines.

Instead, the borough assembly will seek "requests for qualifications" from interested parties to help with planning.

Tuesday’s assembly decision followed local confusion about the status of a "programming" study by MRV Architects of Juneau that examined the former elementary school gym and adjoining classrooms.

Borough manger Mark Earnest told the assembly that preliminary information from the study was more focused on the old gym building rather than the general concept of a recreation facility, and not what he was expecting.

The assembly in January authorized $14,442 for the MRV study. Earnest said the borough has spent about $7,000 so far on the "half complete" study, and he’s "going to put a halt on additional work at this time." A site plan and two floor plans accompanied a 15-page MRV report submitted to the borough in May.

On Tuesday, the assembly also decided against placing on the October ballot a non-binding, advisory question regarding a potential community center and recreation facility.

"As much as I like this, I wonder if it’s not a little early," assemblyman Daymond Hoffman said Tuesday of the advisory vote.

After months of discussion, assembly members have yet to decide what elements they want in such a structure. Part of the nixed study was to get at that question.

"You’re asking people to buy into something and they don’t really even know what it is yet," said assemblyman Steve Vick. "It’s just an idea, and the idea of it that they have in their head might be different from the next voter."

Assemblyman Scott Rossman said he didn’t think a vote would be premature. "It seems to me it’s the very first step."

The resolution referred to an update to the borough’s comprehensive plan, saying "results of the May 2011 Haines Household Opinion Survey show support for a community recreation center, as follows: 90 percent of those ages 18 to 34, 71 percent of those ages 35 to 54, and 64 percent of those ages 55 and older."

Member Joanne Waterman said an advisory question at this time would be putting the cart before the horse. "I don’t want to kill the project before it gets started."

The proposed ballot language would have asked voters: "Do you support the idea of the Haines Borough incurring debt and issuing general obligation bonds or a similar financing arrangement to finance the planning, design, and construction of a new community center and recreation facility?"

The sequence of events was not unlike an assembly discussion of a proposed advisory question on a recreation center in August 2009. That ballot question was scuttled at the last minute by assembly members Jerry Lapp, Pete Lapham and Doug Olerud, who wanted a specific agreement on what the borough and project supporters would be committing to.

With final results of the MRV study still pending, the assembly in July voted to start the process of demolishing the rest of the old elementary school building, previously proposed as a community recreation center. Members said they still wanted to discuss future use of the site in the event of demolition.

Earnest on Tuesday advised the assembly to seek a request for qualifications from interested firms to help with planning.

"I would recommend direction to move forward with a feasibility analysis and programming effort to look at advancing a project, but at the same time, we would have a contractor/consultant who is qualified and experienced in putting community center projects together, of which there are several in the state that can provide assistance, all the way from continuing with the programming effort, all the way through construction and financing," Earnest said.

The assembly voted unanimously to "direct the manager to solicit requests for qualifications for scoping, programming, feasibility and preliminary design for a community center, with cost estimates to potentially include consolidation of other borough facilities." Earnest said this move wouldn’t cost the borough until a firm is identified to start negotiations for project work.

The ballot summary for the advisory question the assembly considered on Tuesday said a community center and recreation facility at the former elementary school site likely would have construction costs "in the $4-6 million range, with annual operating costs of approximately $350,000" and "stressed that these estimates are based on comparable facilities in similarly sized communities in Southeast Alaska."