Council renews examination of Evergreen Walk rec. center

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Wed., Dec. 19, 2012
Town Manager Matthew Galligan presented his report to the Town Council, which included three options for a recreation center. Photos by Christian Mysliwiec.
Town Manager Matthew Galligan presented his report to the Town Council, which included three options for a recreation center. Photos by Christian Mysliwiec.

A proposal to build a recreation center at Evergreen Walk received intense discussion, fresh project options and no definitive answer at the Town Council work session and regular meeting, held Monday, Dec. 17. The proposal includes a community center, a pool of yet-to-be-determined size, and up to two skating rinks.

The proposal, championed by the South Windsor Youth Hockey Association, originally suggested that the council create a 63-20 corporation to help finance the project. The advantage of a 63-20 is that it has tax advantages similar to a municipality. As its own entity, the 63-20 could float bonds and enter into partnerships with for-profit entities without a bidding process. The town would be expected to lease a portion of the facility for programs – a cost that would come from the town budget.

The concept of a 63-20 has received raised eyebrows from some town councilors and members of the public, who view it as a way to push the project through without a referendum.

While discussions at past meetings have been heated, a lack of clear data has kept councilors from making any decisions. At the Nov. 19 council meeting, Town Manager Matthew Galligan was tasked with providing solid numbers for the council's review, which they had for Dec. 17. Using information from other recreation centers and using the Mansfield Community Center as a benchmark, he provided a draft pro-forma with three options.

Option A is 35,000 square feet. It would have a net cost of $133,365.

Option B is 52,700 square feet and includes a 50-meter swimming pool. It would have a net cost of $282,022.

Option C is 43,400 square feet, with an enhanced 25-yard swimming pool. It would have a net cost of $172,184.

Galligan stated he would recommend Option A to the council.

There are some variables yet to be determined, such as the cost of land at Evergreen Walk, which is as yet an unknown. Also unknown is the expense of manpower, actual health benefits, and insurance costs. In light of these discrepancies, Galligan stated that a Request for Proposal be issued to get accurate numbers. To issue an RFP, he would first need clear direction on the project from councilors.

Richard Grigorian of South Windsor Arena has opposed the project from its inception. During the public comments section of the meeting, he asked the rhetorical question, “Is there a market for more ice use in this area?” Grigorian cited his own bookkeeping to reveal diminishing demand for ice time in South Windsor. While his earnings from selling ice time has remained relatively static annually, he has had to raise prices steadily since 2001 to keep it so. Now, he can no longer raise the hourly price of ice time. “I think we've hit the point of no return for the dollar amount we're charging. Every dollar that you go up, you're preventing somebody from joining,” he said. “We're in that Catch-22 where the number is stopping us from doing anything.” With that said, he told the council that no one should be under the illusion that you can generate revenue with a rink.

Grigorian perceives the use of a 63-20 by the town as an instance of local government encroaching on what should remain in the private sector. “What's stopping you from selling fuel oil?” he asked the council. He also described the 63-20 as a “scheme” to bypass a referendum. Grigorian told the council that he is the spokesman for 38 local businesses – including doctors, lawyers, CPAs, shops, restaurants and Nomads Adventure Quest – who have expressed concern about the proposal. The group, called the Concerned Citizens of South Windsor, “would like to present a petition requesting a referendum on the rec. center/rink proposal,” said Grigorian.

Bob Feher, president of the South Windsor Youth Hockey Association and a proponent of the proposal, followed Grigorian at the podium. While the debate over the recreation center has often appeared to be an extension of personal differences between Feher and Grigorian, Feher framed his support for the project as a benefit to local business – including Grigorian's, as South Windsor Arena is also a large retailer of hockey equipment.

“Dr. Anwar, you said the town is in desperate need of a pool back in the spring. Mayor Delnicki, you said Evergreen Walk is one of our number-one assets,” said Feher. “Let's get the numbers before we make a decision.”

Councilor Cindy Beaulieu said that while the council has a lot to focus on, it also has the opportunity to take advantage of historically low interest rates. “If we don't get moving, those will go away,” she said. “I'm not saying we should rush on anything, but we should continue down that path.”

Councilor Gary Bazzano suggested that the council give the matter more attention at its next work session.

In his report, Galligan said that there is no doubt that a properly-done recreation center would enhance the town, and should be looked into. “Every stone should be overturned to make sure that moving forward with any of these programs will be a positive impact to the community,” he wrote.

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