Monday, February 12, 2007

Glog - Gym Workout

Dear Readers,

"Glog" is, of corse, "guest blog." Guest blogger Seth Grimes, Takoma Park, MD city resident, civic involvementisté (see below*), and former candidate for mayor, reports on this weekend’s public workshops held by Takoma Park entitled “Should the City Build a Gymnasium.”


- Gilbert


I attended today's (Sunday Feb. 11) city gym forum. I'd estimate turnout at 30 not counting officials. A friend says that 15 people attended yesterday. (I'll paste in my friend's report farther down in this message.) This is low turnout given a citywide mailing.

Sentiment expressed today was mostly against building a gym. A Sycamore Avenue resident said that she had been talking to her neighbors about the gym and they have "expressed no support whatsoever."

But there was more.

One resident blasted the city for not including operating costs in the estimates. They had to be asked about this at the forum; they didn't volunteer the omission. City staffer Suzanne Ludlow stated that the city is working on these figures. The resident singled out Mayor Porter as having broken a promise to be clear and complete on costs in the wake of the bad Community Center construction experience.

The city stated, in this case without prompting, that none of the estimates include $500,000 - $800,000 in design & engineering costs. So the $5.5-$8 million costs presented by the city were knowingly 10% underestimated. And the costs for the newly presented options, $3.2-$3.9 million, are similarly knowingly underestimated.

Other residents, three I think, stated that the city had not proved demand for a gym. Ms Ludlow declined to take on this topic when it was raised by the first speaker, saying that the concern of the forums would be eliciting individual attendees' views. And the moderator stated that questions should be restricted to requests for clarification, not statements of opinion. The city said that opinions should be expressed in the questionnaires distributed although some folks chose to offer opinions at the forum regardless.

I noted that the questionnaire, in asking what city borrowing individuals would support, did not offer a "no borrowing" option. The lowest category was $1-$2 million. Ms Ludlow committed to modifying the questionnaire to include a "no borrowing" response if it is used again.

A couple of attendees asked that recurring question, what about using county facilities including at the local schools? One stated that we should get state and county assistance in providing community’s preference in using county facilities within their borders.

One resident said that the city's $800,000 estimate for a green roof is about ten times the cost other cities have reported in studies he has seen.

I did not hear a single clear, unequivocal expression of support. My own qualified support -- we must demonstrate majority resident support and commit to green building per city guidelines and fund the gym without borrowing -- was perhaps the most positive expressed in favor of the gym.

To be fair, some supporters likely didn't get up to speak or restricted their questions to technical points.

Mayor Porter and Councilmembers Clay, Seamens, and Williams attended. Councilmember Austin-Lane came toward the end, and Councilmember-elect Reuben Snipper was there. So was State Delegate Heather Mizeur and former Councilmember Carol Stewart.

City Manager Barbara Matthews, Recreation Director Debra Haiduven, and Community and Government Liaison Suzanne Ludlow represented the city.

And Saturday's forum? Here's what my friend reported --

“I went to the workshop today at the Grace church. There were 28 people there, 13 of which were City Council members or City staff. They asked good questions, including was there a demonstrated need for a gym (no; rec. dept. staff brainstormed on uses), how much has it cost the City to rent gyms and was that reimbursed by users (don't know, it cost $18K/yr for gym and other rec. space, but now have the Comm. Ctr. for other rec space, no answer re whether user fees paid any of that). They said there would be additional costs of 500-800 K for design and engineering if they build. One person noted that the City provides recreation now for many Silver Spring children.

“The folks I spoke to (not City staff or Council) all seemed opposed. One thought it would be nice but we can't afford it.

“I wouldn't mind a gym if we had demonstrated need, demonstrated ability to build buildings well, and the resources to do so. Even with the money we have, we have greater need. We haven't even finished the Comm. Ctr.. On my questionnaire, I said we should use our staff time to focus on redeveloping run down areas of NH Ave.

“The council is slated to resume their discussion at tomorrow evening's meeting.”

Seth



So, Dear Readers,

After seeing this report, the question on Your Gilbert's mind is whether the Mayor and those councilmembers who have pledged to Build the Gym No Matter What, will snatch this opportunity to abandon the sinking ship. The apparent dampening of citiizen interest in the project could get them off the hook.


- Gilbert


*Guest blogger Seth Grimes is: President of the Old Town Residents' Association and of Safe Takoma, a cross-jurisdictional crime-prevention initiative. Member of the City of Takoma Park's Health Services Impact committee and of the Economic Restructuring Committee of the Old Takoma Main Street Program. Former member of the city Resident's Committee on Tax and Services Duplication Issues (TASDI) and City Manager Selection Committee and 2005 mayoral candidate. And board member and co-founder of Sustainable Takoma, a citizens advocacy group.

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