Rec Center vote could come tonight
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 19, 2010 1:46 PM
Whether or not the Goldsboro City Council will move forward with construction of a multi-million dollar recreation center downtown could be decided tonight, as the board will meet for the first time since bids for the project were opened last week.
And what they will hear -- at least, those who were not in attendance during the Tuesday bid-opening -- is that the price tag for a new facility some say would have cost nearly $14 million to construct a few years ago is drastically lower than once estimated, thanks, in part, to the same economic climate that prompted them to put the project on hold back in January.
The "apparent low bid," $8.76 million, was turned in by local firm D.S. Simmons Inc., but an affirmative vote from the council would signal an investment of far more.
In fact, the cost for construction alone could increase by as much as $500,000, depending on which alternatives -- installation of bleachers, a climbing wall and a rainwater reclamation system are among them -- the city chooses to include in the final plans.
And even that price tag won't reflect the cost of all the equipment -- exercise machines, weights and other furnishings -- or the annual operating costs expected to run between $750,000 to $1 million a year.
The city has been eyeing construction of a new recreation center since the previous facility -- opened in 1925 and located on Walnut Street -- was destroyed by fire in 2004.
In June 2005, a committee was formed to research a possible reconstruction, and since, the group has produced a design, location -- the 200 block of Center Street -- and most of the additional details to make it happen.
But the project was put on hold in January 2009 because of a shaky economy -- the same climate officials now say has saved as much as $5 million on construction.
As the plans currently show it, the recreation center would be a YMCA-like facility, complete with a pool, concession area, day care room, restrooms, classrooms, gymnasium and indoor track. A fitness center, weight room and gaming room also are included in the plan.
The majority of the council has remained satisfied with the renderings produced by architectural firm Pearce, Brinkley, Cease and Lee, P.A. -- only Michael Headen has voiced opposition to the look, saying in December 2009 he did not believe the building "fit" into his vision of downtown.
"Is this the best design we can get? ... This stuff looks like the same old crap. It looks like the same thing, rolled over again. ... We paid them an asinine amount of money for those designs," the councilman said then.
The Rev. Charles Williams also has voiced concerns, questioning how the center would be run -- and whether the building would truly serve the entire population if the city moved forward with a membership-based access system.
"It's a public facility. Everybody's going to get to use it," City Manager Joe Huffman said during a meeting in February when Williams raised those issues. "But we want everyone to be a member."
"I know it will benefit those who are underprivileged," Williams replied. "I'm still holding onto that."
But those concerns are not the only ones that exist.
In fact, some members of the community are simply not satisfied with the plans.
A petition signed by nearly 100 local residents was received by the city management team in early February, a document that claims the proposed facility "is not environmentally compatible with existing buildings" downtown.
"We understand that building the center would be less expensive now, but much are opposed to being forced to accept a building design which will have a negative, rather than positive, impact on the overall downtown plan," the petition reads. "If a client is not pleased with the facade, they should not be coerced into paying additional money to receive an acceptable design."
Tonight's meeting is set to begin at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at historic City Hall, but most of the discussion regarding the recreation center is scheduled to occur during the board's pre-meeting work session at 5 p.m. in the City Hall Annex second-floor conference room.