Recreation Interpretation: Community Center Vision Comes Into Focus

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Since the early 1980s, a community center has been part of the town's master plan. Now, the Parks and Recreation Department has a feasibility study that is a tangible representation of the vision.

"About a year ago the town contracted with a gentleman named Ken Ballard of Ballard & Associates to do a feasibility study -- they are an industry leader in the area of community centers," Parks and Recreation Director Bill Schwind said.

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The feasibility study by Ballard & Associates on Payson's community center is now complete. The $9 million facility includes an indoor lap pool, gymnasium and a senior wing. The planned location is Rumsey Park, across the parking lot from the library.

Ballard held a series of public meetings to get input from residents on what they wanted to see in their community center.

"Throughout the study, Ken came and did his analytical research on Payson and conducted a series of public meetings," Schwind. "Residents had a chance to voice their needs and opinions. A lot of input came from those meetings.

"The No. 1 thing people wanted was year-round aquatics," Schwind said. "Taylor pool is only open for eight or nine weeks and people wanted to be able to swim year-round."

The second most popular suggestion from the public was more multi-purpose community rooms for meetings and classes.

"Third was a large gymnasium-type room that can be multi-use for anything from basketball to weddings to public dances because right now we are limited in town in terms of that type of facility," Schwind said.

The layout for the community center includes a senior wing.

"A multi-generation center is what's evolved because we have a very high population of retirees -- you have to serve whoever is in your community.

With the demographics of Payson, the seniors really deserve something more functional," Schwind said. "The way this whole facility is laid out, the senior wing has its own entrance and kitchen and the area would be inaccessible by the other areas of the center."

The planned location is directly across the parking lot from the library.

"It will be right on the Rumsey One ballfield and we would simply replace that ballfield with those that are under construction at the west end of Rumsey," Schwind said. "We wouldn't lose anything else."

Schwind said there is a moderate price fee schedule recommended in the feasibility study.

"There is a proposed fee schedule that is a kind of a cost recovery program, but what the study also points out is that you typically need a population of 55,000 for a center like this to break even or make money, so we would be operating at a projected subsidy rate of 70 percent," Schwind said.

The notion of a subsidized community center already has some residents up in arms.

"Well, Green Valley Park doesn't make any money, but it was still a good idea," Schwind said. "Parks in general are a subsidy and your tax dollars go to a quality of life service. As your population grows, the amount of subsidy required to operate and maintain the facility decreases."

Schwind sees many benefits to the proposed community center.

"From an economic development standpoint, visitors can pay day-use fees -- It will be a great asset to the community," Schwind said.

Cost and sources of funding

The projected cost of the current design of the community center is $9 million.

"That number is based on today's rates and a 54,000 square foot facility -- but nothing is in concrete. Once we get down the road further, it could grow and it could shrink," Schwind said.

"Identifying the funding sources is the next obstacle. To make it more palatable, we are exploring ways to do it without raising taxes," Schwind said. "We are looking into different mechanisms that will potentially work to get the facility constructed and then we will look at how we will pay for the ongoing maintenance and operation."

According to Schwind, potential funding sources include federal and state grants.

"The Heritage Fund is probably the biggest funder of parks and recreation services in this country -- that's one small aspect that we could use. There's the federal program of Land and Water Conservation Funds. If we meet their criteria, we could qualify for funding for the indoor pool.

"Naming rights are a big thing now," Schwind said. "Buildings are named after people for cash contributions. There are examples of this in the Valley and in Sedona."

Although $9 million is a large sum to get, Schwind remains optimistic.

"I'm hopeful that in time we can raise some money to at least offset the cost of the construction of the facility," Schwind. "Green Valley Park took ten years, and I'm hoping that construction will begin by 2006."

After a few minor corrections are made to the feasibility study, the issue will come before the town council for discussion.

"The Parks Board will put their final seal of approval on it," Schwind said, "and they will make a recommendation to the town council on what direction they believe we should go with this."

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