Council OKs revision

-A A +A

WR civic center: Committee to define renovation of current complex

By Arin McKenna

The atmosphere at Tuesday’s county council discussion of the White Rock Civic Center surged with excitement -- a marked contrast to the contentious debate that ensued during Capital Improvement Project (CIP) hearings just two months ago.

Civic Center supporters were crestfallen when council voted down the White Rock Master Plan Implementation Committee’s (WRMPIC) request for $16 million to build a combined facility with a library, senior center, youth activity center, activity center and town hall,

Council instead allocated $8,400,000 remaining in the White Rock Master Plan placeholder and asked the WRMPIC to return in six weeks with options for separating the components of the civic center and reducing scope.
Community and Economic Development Director Anne Laurent and her staff worked with Steve Kells of Kells+Craig (who designed the original option) to develop three alternates.

Option1 called for a new 10,577-square-foot library and renovated youth activity center at Piñon Park and renovation of the current municipal complex for an expanded senior center. The municipal complex space would continue to serve as community space for classes and other activities.

Option 2 mirrors Option 1 for renovating the youth activity center and municipal complex, but called for renovating the former Ed’s Food Market/bowling alley in Sherwood Village for a library.

Option 3 was a design for a new, co-located and significantly reduced-in- size library and senior center and included a renovated youth activity center.

Staff did not pursue Option 2 because it is currently privately owned, has occupants and would require successful negotiations for the purchase or long-term lease agreement between the property owners and the county in order to move forward.

Option 3 was unanimously rejected by those involved because of the reduction in space for both the library and senior center.

The WRMPIC and other participants were unanimous in their support of Option 1, citing:

The option satisfies current and projected space needs for both library and senior center.
Youth activity center staff is satisfied with the existing location and prospect for refurbishment at Piñon Park.
It anchors new development at either end of Longview Drive and supports future improvements and redevelopment within Sherwood Village.

Design and construction can be accomplished within the retargeted budget.

It makes good use of county-owned assets.

It does not negatively impact existing Piñon Park amenities and provides the opportunity for distinctive and integrated Piñon Park Complex.

Community Services Director Charlie Kalogeros-Chattan stressed the need for a neighborhood library, youth activity center and senior center with adequate space.

“The project is really about creating spaces where we can all get together and connect and share activities. As human beings it’s really our nature to seek community, and when we share resources really wonderful things happen,” Kalogeros-Chattan.

Option 1 offered two alternatives for renovating the current municipal complex. Alternative A demolishes the town hall to add more parking and enlarges the senior center to more than 11,000 square feet. Alternative B leaves the parking as is and also renovates the town hall, increasing senior center space to 14,498 square feet. Both plans include a commercial grade kitchen in order to provide meal services for seniors.

Over a third of that cost is for renovating the municipal complex for deficiency work such as replacing roofs and windows to bring the buildings up to code and insure longevity. However, the anticipated lifespan of the complex is still no more than 15 years, which raised concerns for Councilor Geoff Rodgers, who asked if investing in a new building would be a wiser investment.

Kells explained that the renovation would cost approximately $200 per square foot, whereas new construction would cost approximately $400 per square foot, a $4 million price tag for a 10,000 foot facility.

“I think the most important part is the seniors right now wanted space, and this was the most cost effective way,” Laurent said. “The bottom line is, we didn’t have the money to build new right now, otherwise we would have. That was our first proposal.”

The WRMPIC did not advocate for either alternative A or B, and council asked for public input on preference. Betty Ehart Senior Center Executive Director Pauline Schneider said there had not been adequate time to consult seniors about their preference, and asked for additional time to do so. Council voted to allow the WRMPIC 30 to 45 days to research the alternatives and make a recommendation to County Administrator Harry Burgess.

Council Chair Sharon Stover was concerned that other community uses of the municipal complex not be pre-empted, and directed the WRMPIC to consult other user groups before deciding which alternative to recommend. Kalogeros-Chattan assured her that was already being addressed. “That has always been a shared space and we would continue on with it as it is,” Kalogeros-Chattan said.

Public comment was strongly in support of the plan, with the exception of Rachel Hixson, representing the interest of the White Rock Community Garden. The new library would occupy the space proposed for the community garden.

“We think it’s important to be included in the master plan or reappropriation of the Piñon Park area,” Hixon said. WRMPIC Chair Dennis Erickson assured Hixson the community garden could be incorporated into the design.

Stacey Gartz expressed the prevailing attitude. “I’m really excited about the project that we’re looking at today. And, to be perfectly honest, this is a complete 180, because in May we were ready to grab the Kleenex box and scoop ourselves up off the ground.”

Councilor David Izraelevitz made the motion to support Option 1. “I want to really acknowledge how delighted I am with the work that was done the last six weeks. It showed a lot of creativity and hard work,” Izraelevitz said. The motion passed unanimously.

Council also voted to allow staff to consider debt financing in its business plan for the Community Broadband Network and to table and revise the contract with the Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation for the operation of the Los Alamos Meeting & Visitor Bureau. Watch the Los Alamos Monitor for more on these stories.