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Board Ponders How to Finance Rec Center

A $17 million recreation center proposed for Claude Moore Park will cost the county too much, according to Supervisor James "Jim" Burton (I-Mercer). Even so, other members of the board say the project is one that is needed.

"As I suspected, I think we've been led down a path ... where taxpayers have to supplement the program," Burton said at the June 17 Board of Supervisors meeting.

At his request, county staff presented Burton, chairman of the Finance and Government Services Committee, with a draft fee schedule the week before. The committee asked Parks, Recreation and Community Services staff in early May to outline the center's operating expenses, debt service and proposed fees in a fee schedule that is due this fall.

"Those fees are too high. We have to lower the fees to make it affordable," Burton said. He expects the county will have to provide a subsidy for the center's operating costs, estimated at $905,000 the first year the center is open. The county's 2003 Draft Fiscal Plan states, "It is proposed that memberships to the facility would offset the construction, debt and operating costs of the center."

"A year ago this spring, we [the Board of Supervisors] voted to approve it and send it to referendum in the fall based on the assumption it would pay for itself in fees," Burton said.

IN 2001, THE BOARD approved an expanded version of the recreation center to include a second Olympic size indoor swimming pool and an indoor track, in addition to a recreation swimming pool, gymnasium, fitness area, rock climbing wall and community meeting rooms. The center's cost increased from $8.5 million in the late 1990s to $17 million that year. Construction costs for the 60,000-square-foot building are now expected to be $15.2 million with another $1 million for furniture and fixtures.

"I believe it's excessive in size and scope and cost," Burton said. "I think it's too much all around. That's why I have voted against it each time the last two years."

At the June 3 board meeting, the Board of Supervisors awarded an architectural and engineering design contract to Wisnewski Blair Associates for $1.2 million. The board recommended Parks, Recreation and Community Services staff prepare and present the fee schedule to the Finance and Government Services Committee, then to the board in the fall or by the time the construction contract is awarded.

"I would like to see fees support the operation as much as possible. However, I think the facilities are very much in need," said Supervisor Chuck Harris (D-Broad Run), adding that the indoor swimming pools are needed for youth and adult swimming programs. "Currently, high school swim teams have to swim early in the morning. These club teams are having a hard time for their folks to train. ... A small amount of taxpayer funding in my mind is a good investment."

Chairman Scott York agreed.

"It's important to the community just as are small schools," said York (R-At Large).

THE RECREATION CENTER, which will be located in the southern section of Claude Moore Park in Sterling, is scheduled to be completed in fall 2004 and open in spring 2005.

Before construction begins, the county will offer the first public input session Wednesday, July 10 on the design and programming for the proposed Claude Moore Park recreation center. The design team will present an overview of the conceptual design and seek suggestions from the public.

"This is their facility, not ours, so we want it to reflect the needs of the community," said Jim Vincent, project manager for the Facility Development Division of Parks, Recreation and Community Services.

The input session will take place from 2-4 p.m. and again from 6-8 p.m. at the Sterling Annex Community Center, located at 1115 West Church St.