Support builds for moving parks and rec office

By Corene Brisendine

City commissioners Tuesday indicated they favor moving the Department of Parks and Recreation office to City Hall in order to save money on staff and building maintenance.

That consensus followed a presentation by Jason Hilgers, assistant city manager, in which he said the city needs to address repairs and renovations at the Community Building downtown, the parks and rec office at City Park, and the City Auditorium at City Hall. Hilgers suggested expansion of the city auditorium and relocation of parks and rec offices to City Hall rather than repairing and restoring the other two buildings.

Cameron Tross of Bruce McMillan Architects presented four options to give the parks and rec department better offices. The two options of renovating the building in City Park were dismissed immediately by commissioners. The other two that proposed moving the offices to City Hall were preferred, but not without concerns. The cost of just moving the offices was put at $1.26 million but did not address issues with the Community Building and the City Auditorium beyond using some of the auditorium space for offices. The second proposal addressed the other two spaces, but the cost was $2.7 million.

One objection commissioners had to that proposal is that it would cost about $1 million more than what the city had available in reserve funds for the construction. City management suggested using $1.3 million from the Capital Improvement Fund to pay for part of the project. Hilgers said the Parks and Rec department also has money available to cover some of the costs.

Commissioner Rich Jankovich said he would not be willing to use sales or property tax to cover the deficit unless administrators could document that the efficiencies would off-set the cost to the taxpayers.

Curt Loupe, parks and rec director, and Hilgers said they were confident the reduction in staff alone would offset the cost. Hilgers also said they could find other revenue sources to cover the $1 million that would not come from taxes-sales or property.

Another concern voiced by the commissioners is that the estimate did not cover costs to renovate either the building at City Park or the Community Building.

Commissioner Wynn Butler said he saw the Community Building as a liability to the city, and said the city should either sell it or enter into a public/private contract in order to shoulder part of the cots of maintaining it. He suggested putting it on the market to see whether there was interest in the private sector.

Commissioner Jim Sherow said grant money was available to cover restoration costs of the Community Building, but the city had not taken advantage of those funds.

Pepperd said he knew the county was looking for a “Taj Mahal” in which to house expanded office space, and suggested the city should look into partnering with the county for shared use of the Community Building.

“I would like to be able to convince the county,” Pepperd said. “It would be a good place to put some of their offices.”

Pepperd said he would also like the city to look into buying the corner lot across the street from City Hall in order to expand parking. He said parking at City Hall is already stressed.

Commissioner John Matta said he would like to see a cost proposal include the cost of repurposing the building at City Park.

Loupe said they had not settled on what that new purpose would be, but the least expensive use would be to turn it back into a garage.

He said the garage doors are still up and it would not have any utility bills associated with it if they put the mowing equipment in that building, allowing the other shop to house the tree-trimming equipment that is currently sitting outside in the weather. He also said most of the renovations could be done “in-house,” saving the city extra money to convert the space.

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