West Jefferson residents will not vote on whether or not to build a community recreation center this spring, but could be asked to cast a ballot on the issue during November’s presidential election.
Consultants hired to conduct a feasibility study are questioning whether the village and surrounding township has the “critical mass” of population needed to support such a facility.
On Monday night, village council members reviewed three options as presented by Janet Jordan, a representative of architectural firm Moody Nolan. The firm conducted a two-phase feasibility study for the village that began late last year.
The study was prompted by the loss of an activity space within the community through the demolition of Galbreath Hall, then-home base for West Jefferson Youth Athletic Association (WJYAA) programs.
The first phase, presented early this year, drew a picture of the community’s ideal center. Its 36,000 square feet included a gymnasium, fitness area, group exercises studio, elevated track, entry lobby, offices, locker rooms, small kitchen, multipurpose classroom and a room specifically designated for senior programs.
But this facility carried a price tag of roughly $9 million, a cost deemed too high by elected officials and local residents.
Monday night, Jordan presented a revised version of this plan that included the same amenities, but shrunk the building to 26,500 square feet and the price tag to roughly $7 million.
A third scenario dropped the price tag to about $4 million, but the 17,500-square-foot facility would only include a gym, track, multipurpose classroom, entryway and office area and a room for senior programs.
Notably lacking from this last proposal is the fitness area and equipment that would allow the village to charge annual user fees to offset operating costs, Jordan said. The facility would only generate rental income.
Operating costs are estimated at roughly $595,000 for the 36,000-square-foot facility and about $558,000 annually for the 26,500-square-foot facility. The bulk of these costs would pay for employees to run the fitness center and coordinate class offerings.
The roughly $4 million center would not incur these personnel costs, and utility costs would be lower because the facility would only need to be heated or cooled the few hours per day it was being used as opposed to keeping the temperature comfortable throughout the day for anyone utilizing the fitness equipment, Jordan said.
If village officials pursued the $7 million option, the village would have to subsidize the center between roughly $84,000 and $280,000 per year, depending on how many users signed up and how high user fees were set, the Moody Nolan report estimates.
But the village faces competition from a roughly $12 million community center that opened in Prairie Township this summer, Jordan said. Located within a 10-minute drive of West Jefferson, this center also offers a pool.
The Prairie Township center is supported by a population of roughly 76,500 people who live within a three-mile radius.
Only 7,154 people live within the village of West Jefferson and Jefferson Township, Jordan said.
If the village bonded for the $7 million, it would likely pay between $415,000 and $475,000 annually for 25 or 20 years, respectively, the report shows.
The village could generate an additional $750,000 per year by increasing its current 1-percent income tax by another 0.25 percent.
Mayor-elect Ray Martin doubted that residents would support an increase in taxes.
Council members Jim King and Doug Eakins questioned whether the village needs its own center, pointing out that the nearby Prairie Township facility has more amenities than West Jefferson could offer and that the youth athletic association is mounting a campaign to purchase its own facility.
Outgoing mayor Darlene Steele pointed out that residents still want a grocery store in town, even though a grocery store is as close to the village as the Prairie Township recreational facility.
Councilman Randy Otis argued that the question of need is exactly the reason the issue should be placed on the ballot.
Outgoing council president Ron Garver agreed. Though he is retiring from council, he will still serve on the steering committee working to get a community center for West Jefferson — and the committee will come back and ask council for a vote in November, he said.
“We just bought a piece of land that will be a really good recreational area,” he said. “I think it’s something village residents should have a chance to vote on.”
The feasibility study included potential future expansions and additions, including add a pool, picnic area, walking trail and horseshoe pits. The study places the center on the village’s recently-purchased Looby property, nearly 24.5 acres located next to Converse Park on the south side of the railroad tracks.
Reach Audrey Ingram at 740-852-1616, ext. 1615 or on Twitter @Audrey.MP
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