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Community Center Trumps Arts Center

Proposed CIP Goes To Council April 5

Barring any last minute changes, the Herndon Planning Commission will be forwarding a $5.5 million fiscal year 2005 capital improvements program to the Town Council April 5, which includes funding for the completion of the Herndon Community Center but pushes back the anticipated construction money for the arts center.

Of the $5 million-plus sum, $4 million is proposed to be borrowed from the water and sewer fund and paid back with a bond issuance that was planned next winter. The borrowed funds would cover the $3.5 million community center renovation and the remainder would be used for security enhancements for the new police station on Herndon Parkway and storm drainage improvements on Monroe and Station streets.

"We can borrow the money. The Town Council would have to issue bonds to pay the water and sewer fund back within 18 months after we start borrowing," said Mary Tuohy, the town's finance director. "The bonds we would be issuing anyway, around December 2005, for FY '06."

In all, the Planning Commission moved funding for eight of the 42 projects on the proposed FY '05-10 CIP at a work session Monday night. The board will preside over a public hearing of the proposed CIP April 5, followed by a Town Council work session on the FY '05 budget and FY '05 CIP the next evening. Both meetings are slated to begin at 7:30 p.m.

"HOPEFULLY, WE'RE PRETTY comfortable with what we have," said Carl Sivertsen, the Planning Commission chair, after the nearly two-hour work session.

The only change that affects the upcoming fiscal year is the community center. The commission, after consulting with Tuohy, decided to move $3.2 million of funding from FY '06 up a year. The center was already planned to receive $300,000 in FY '05, mostly for minor site work. The additional money will be borrowed from the water and sewer fund. In addition, $180,000 worth of funding, proposed to be distributed in FY '07 and FY '08 were each moved up a year.

"One big segment of that is fitness equipment and furniture throughout the center. Some of it is 25 years old," said Art Anselene, the director of parks and recreation, of the additional money.

The renovation, which was originally set to be funded with bonds this past year, had been put off when the opportunity for the town to purchase 397 Herndon Parkway for a new police station arose.

THE OTHER BIG MOVE, made by the commission was to push back funding for the proposed cultural arts center, in part, to give the town some time to build a structured parking facility that could be used by the art center patrons. The art center was tentatively slated to received $150,000 for architecture and engineering in FY '07, which has now been pushed back one fiscal year. And another $5 million in FY '08 for construction was moved back to FY '10, to correspond with another projected bond issue.

The structured parking was proposed to receive $3 million in funding in FY '10, and was bumped up to FY '08.

"How could you have structured parking in FY '10 and the arts center before that?" said Commissioner Ted Hochstein. "It's like putting the cart before the horse."

Supporters of the arts center had lobbied to have the funding sooner rather than later to enable the Arts Center Foundation to begin fund-raising efforts in hopes of raising an additional $3 million. They argued in order to receive large donations from corporations, a commitment from the town was needed as insurance. Various commissioners did not agree with that argument.

"The town already put $2 million into it [with land acquisition]. If someone came in with a $10 million check, the shovels would go in the ground tomorrow," said Commissioner Bill Tirrell. "I think the business community needs to be a part, a big part, of this."

The arts center is still anticipated to receive $50,000 in FY '05, which would allow for an architect to evaluate whether the Hands Inc. building that now exists on the site can be converted into a black-box theater for the Elden Street Players, which could then be absorbed into the final center design. The Players current location, the Industrial Strength Theatre in the Sunset Business Park, is on a month-by-month basis because the complex owner is selling the buildings for condominiums. It will also pay for 30 percent of the center's design. Town staff said that would be enough of the design work to permit value engineering on the project, to look for cost-saving measures.

THE COMMISSION MEMBERS also moved funding for Station Street improvements from FY '08 and FY '10 up a year to FY '07 and FY '09. The Park-Monroe intersection improvements were also moved up from FY '10 and beyond to FY '08 and '09. The planned Center Street alignment was bumped up from FY '10 to FY '08. The new concession stand and bathroom facilities for Haley Smith Park planned for FY '08 were also moved up a year.

The down side of all the moves however, is the commission increased the spending in upcoming fiscal years.

"We are now projecting more expenditures than income from FY '07, '08, '09 and '10," said Henry Bibber, director of community development. "Either things have to get better [financially] or we have to keep pushing things out."