Concerns growing over M-I rec center

MONMOUTH -- Two weeks ago, Polk County Commissioners heard from citizens during a public hearing in Independence regarding the formation of a special district to facilitate construction of a new recre

MONMOUTH -- Two weeks ago, Polk County Commissioners heard from citizens during a public hearing in Independence regarding the formation of a special district to facilitate construction of a new recreation center.

Opinion there was almost completely positive.

The mood was drastically different, however, during a forum at Volunteer Hall in Monmouth on May 21.

Sentiment was sharply divided among the nearly 70 attendees; some favored the possible creation of a facility for young people, while others expressed concern about proposal uncertainties and costs.

Commissioner Tom Ritchey said he welcomed the discourse.

"This was a different hearing than in Independence," he said. "I thought it was very helpful.

"Having the balance between the two helps the decision process rather than hinders it."

Commissioners will hold a final open meeting on Wednesday, June 4, to deliberate on whether to form the district outright, require promoters to gather petition signatures or refer it to citizens during the general election.

Proponents, some of them affiliated with the local YMCA, want to form a district encompassing Monmouth and Independence.

The district wouldn't levy taxes, but would give its eventual board of directors the authority needed to place a general obligation bond to erect a center before voters -- possibly this fall.

The group seeks to build a 51,000-square-foot complex with a pool, basketball court and other amenities on a parcel off the S-curves along Monmouth Street. Project cost is approximately $9.5 million.

Ultimately, the YMCA or a similar organization would manage the facility and its programs.

Katrina and Steve Hill, siblings and swim team members at Central High School, said a center would provide the cities with a much-needed pool, and give kids a place to hang out and a way to stay out of trouble.

"I'm a single mother," said Nicole Dolan of Independence, "and because of the low cost of the YMCA (membership) I could put my son in activities and can afford it."

Several opponents said a district bond is ill-timed, due to a newly passed bond for Chemeketa Community College and an initiative for a reconstruction of Central High School looming this fall.

"I have a hard time trying to put something like this in front of voters," said Terry Richards of Independence.

Wayne Hildebrand of Monmouth said the project could undergo financial difficulties and put the cities in a situation similar to Dallas, which has struggled for years to pay for operation of its aquatic center.

"A pool by itself doesn't make money," said Steve Moser of Independence, a proposal supporter. "This would have a gymnasium and classrooms that would draw members and make money."

John McGonegal, owner of Monmouth Fitness Club, said a facility run by a nonprofit and built on donated land with property taxes amounts to "unfair competition" for businesses such as his and Curves.

"We have to pay everything out of pocket," McGonegal said.

Some residents pressed for a business operation plan and claimed district planners weren't being forthcoming with building costs.

Greg Ellis, a proponent and YMCA board member, said the complex was projected to cost about $7.3 million based on a 2002 estimate and that a bond supporting that amount would run roughly 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

A recently updated figure from consultants puts the price at $9.5 million, said Ellis, who is also Independence City Manager.

The group would still seek the earlier amount "because that's the number we've thrown out," he said, adding that the balance would come from grants or donations.

A pro forma by proponents partly modeled on a YMCA facility built in Sherwood under similar circumstances in 2000 showed a first-year revenue surplus.

Ron Cooper of Independence argued the comparison wasn't valid, and that the Portland-suburb was more affluent and that citizens there could afford to support a center.

Ellis countered that Sherwood's building was constructed at a time when that city had a population half the size of Monmouth-Independence today.

Regarding the effect on existing fitness businesses, Ellis cited anecdotal evidence from officials in Sherwood and Caldwell, Idaho, in which more gyms opened because of a demand spurred by recreation centers.

The deadline to submit written testimony on the proposed recreation district is Friday, May 30. A final public hearing will start at 9 a.m. on June 4 at the Polk County Courthouse in Dallas.


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