Facility could serve several demographic groups
By Greg Elias
A community center in Williston is moving from broad concept to concrete proposal.
Comments from about a dozen residents who attended a public meeting last week showed support for a facility that would serve both teens and seniors, said Terry Macaig, chairman of a task force studying the proposal.
“We’re coming closer to a multi-generational facility,” Macaig said.
The task force was formed by the Selectboard last fall. Since then, the group has met at least monthly to study whom the center would serve, where it would be located and how its construction and operation would be funded.
Kevin Finnegan, the town’s recreation director, said the center could provide a central gathering place for residents and bolster participation in existing recreation programs.
“It’s the ‘if you build it, they will come’ concept,” he said.
Several locations have been considered. “Our preference is in the village, but we haven’t ruled out other locations,” Macaig said.
One potential location is the so-called Lyons property, municipally owned land behind Town Hall. Affordable housing advocates have proposed building homes on the land, but Macaig said that use may be compatible with a community center.
A ballpark estimate to construct the facility is $1.5 million, Macaig said. But he emphasized that was a rough figure based on the cost of similar facilities in other Chittenden County towns.
The task force has studied a public-private partnership that could provide much of the funding for construction and operation. Catamount Family Center in Williston and the YMCA are among the organizations that have been approached.
No municipal money has been committed to fund the facility, said Town Manager Rick McGuire.
The town could seek voter approval for bonds to pay for a community center. State statute allows municipalities to incur bond debt equal to 10 times the grand list.
Williston’s debt ceiling is $120 million, said town finance director Susan Lamb. Including money to be borrowed this summer for new public safety facilities, the town’s total bond debt is just $8.6 million.
But McGuire said statutory limits on borrowing and voters’ tolerance for more debt – and property tax increases to pay it off – are two different things.
“The most important question to ask is are we over-extended as far as voters are concerned,” he said.
A survey of Williston voters in March showed strong support for a community center, with 85 percent favoring a multi-purpose facility. However, the University of Vermont students who conducted the survey noted in a report that many people refused to answer questions because they didn’t want anything that would increase taxes.
It’s important for the town to determine whether Williston residents will actually use a community center, Finnegan said.
In Charlotte, for example, the town has a well-used senior center, he said. But Colchester’s facility sits empty much of the time.
“Is the space we have in town adequate? Finnegan asked. “We don’t know that yet.”
Macaig said the task force was originally scheduled to make recommendations to the Selectboard in June. He said the group won’t make that deadline, but he hopes to wrap up work by summer’s end.
The task force’s next meeting will be held at 8 a.m. on Monday, June at Town Hall.
Residents who want to express their opinions about a community center can call Finnegan at 878-1239 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.