Rec Center Stirs Debate In Village
The Pinehurst Village Council agreed Tuesday to proceed with planning a recreation center but will decide what kind of priority it should receive after updating its five-year Capital Improvement Plan in a month or so.
The proposed $2.3 million freestanding recreation center would have 13,000 square feet of space. The centerpiece would be a gymnasium.
The council agreed to obtain more definitive information about the level of support for this project among a majority of a residents. A needs assessment released in September by Parks and Recreation Director Mark Wagner showed heavy usage and continued demand for existing recreation facilities, which are already "tapped out."
"We can't look at it from our perspective, but from changing demographics in Pinehurst," Mayor Steve Smith said, referring to the fact that all the members of the council are retirees. "I believe we owe it to our citizens to do this. There's a strong demand we may be unaware of it."
However, Smith added later that he would oppose building the new recreation center if it requires an increase in the tax rate. Councilman Doug Lapins also expressed concerns about financial priorities.
A majority of residents who responded to a survey indicated that they want a recreation center for the village as long as it does not require a tax increase. The current tax rate is 31 cents per $100 valuation. About 40 percent of the 1,000 surveys were returned.
The enrollment in recreation programs has grown steadily over the past few years, according to Wagner. Because of the increasing demand, the basketball program has now reached the point where it cannot be expanded because access to the existing gym at Pinehurst Elementary School is limited since the school has priority in scheduling its own events.
Pinehurst needs to control the space to reliably deliver the program the public expects, Wagner said. That means owning a facility, he said.
About two-thirds of the participants are Pinehurst children, he said. Out-of-town residents pay higher fees than those who live in the village.
In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 371 day campers enrolled in the recreation program's summer session, Wagner said, and 358 already are enrolled for next June's day camp. The village expects enrollment to reach 490 children next year, he added.
"We don't feel we can meet the needs now," he said.
A new basketball team for 13- to 15-year-olds is needed but can't be formed because there is no more space available at the school. About 13 teams now use the gym.
About 320 participants are on the 13 teams, and they are limited to 45-minute practice sessions because of the demands on the school gym, he said.
"For the last three to five years, it's pretty much tapped out," he said. "We can add some individuals, but we can't add a new team. We'll still need the elementary school gym even after we build our own gym in the recreation center."
Southern Pines has begun using the new Recreation Center at the Boys and Girls Club that was built a few years ago. It has a gym. That somewhat eased the pressure on the gym at Southern Pines Elementary.
Parks and Recreation swim teams currently use the pool at Bretton Woods, said Wagner, and sometimes the FirstHealth Fitness Center, though that pool is widely used and there is little space for the village recreation swim teams there, he said.
Wagner said he is not asking for a pool facility.
"We've applied for a grant to help," he said. "It's a competitive process."
The grant application cycle for this year ends Jan. 31, 2007, and another application won't be considered until a year later in early 2008.
A maximum of $500,000 can be awarded through the state's Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.
Lapins has consistently opposed a recreation center, saying he has seen no interest in such an item among people he knows who don't have young children but are responsible, public-spirited and intelligent retirees.
"It's a want, not a need," Lapins said,
He said the village has other major expenditures for more high-profile items in the Comprehensive Long-Range Plan the council adopted several years ago.
A recreation center originally was estimated to cost $1.9 million in the council's capital improvement plan, said Assistant Manager Natalie Dean, who is responsible for finance.
The center will only become more expensive to build as time passes, said Councilwoman Virginia Fallon. She, Smith and Mayor Pro Tem George Hillier favor the idea of a center.
Councilwoman Lorraine Tweed wondered aloud whether the village could afford more debt service payments.
Debt service is $1 million a year, Dean said, but the village is well below the recommended maximum amount for a municipality of this size.
In a separate report, independent auditors from Dixon, Odom and Co. of Southern Pines reported the village tax base is $2.1 billion, up $1 million from the year before. The tax base provides property tax revenues that finance most of the General Fund and the majority of local government operating expenses.
Countywide revaluation, which will now be done every four years, reflects increases in fair market property values on existing business and personal property and growth in the tax base from new construction.
In other business at a 1 p.m. regular meeting in the Assembly Hall, Doug Middaugh criticized a proposed new architectural requirement for new homes in the R-10, R-15, R-20 and R-5 zoning districts. Limiting them to three different kinds of facade materials ought to cover all the zoning districts, he said.
Later, the council unanimously approved the amendment.
Sara Lindau can be reached at 693-2473 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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