OSEC members sought $98,000 in funding from the town’s 1% local option tax fund, as well as a future commitment of $60,000 in annual funding from the town for municipal use of the former high school building, including its use as an emergency shelter. OSEC is currently in a purchase and sale agreement with the school, and board members said they expect to take ownership of the building in the next several days.
OSEC board members presented their plan for a community center at the former school which, according to their mission statement, will provide not only a center for health and wellness, adult activities and children’s services, social and educational opportunities that would enhance the quality of life in the valley, but also create a minimum of 10 to 25 jobs in the village. Currently, said OSEC board member Cindy Hayford, the community uses the school building for about 595 hours per year, ranging from indoor sports activities and other recreation, to use as meeting or work space for local organizations.
OSEC board member John Howe presented an overview of OSEC’s operating revenues and expenses. Total revenue expected in 2017, according to OSEC’s chart, is $124,000. The figure includes rent from Windham Southwest Supervisory Union of $32,000, an agreement with the school to pay $60,000 for use of the facilities, a $13,500 grant from the Wilmington Fund, and the proceeds of other fundraising. With expenses of $120,000 expected for the year, it would leave OSEC with net income of $4,000. But by 2018, and with the town’s input of $60,000 for use of the facility as well as an increase in grants and other fundraising, revenue is projected to climb to $195,357. 2018 expenses would also rise, to $145,000, leaving OSEC with net income of more than $50,000.
Board members requested $98,000 from the 1% local option fund to begin what they said were crucial repairs and modifications necessary for community use of the building. Projects include roofing repairs, reconfiguration of the entryway, heating improvements, and other repairs and maintenance including refinishing the gymnasium floor. The total ranged from $181,800 to $221,000, depending on the level of roofing repairs needed. If the $98,000 in 1% funding is approved, Howe said, OSEC will begin working on the highest priority work, which includes the roofing repairs.
Selectboard chair Tom Fitzgerald expressed doubt that OSEC’s plan would be sufficient to sustain the needs at the building. He referred to the selectboard’s study of the building, conducted by Stevens and Associates. That study suggested a minimum cost for refurbishment of the building was $4.5 million, he said.
Howe said that OSEC contemplates a significantly scaled-back renovation that would cost about $2.2 million, and would be phased in more gradually.
“The key is that it doesn’t come back to the town,” Fitzgerald said. “We understand,” said OSEC member Meg Streeter. “We don’t want it to be a burden either. But with what we learned after (Tropical Storm) Irene, this is a good long-term solution, and it would be a wasted opportunity not to use it.”
Fitzgerald asked what provision OSEC made for raising capital. “If I recall, Stevens and Associates projected that the building would need another $1 million for repairs to things like furnaces in 10 years.”
Sarah Fisher questioned whether volunteers would be able to handle all of the needs of the building and the operation of the community center. OSEC said they have a number of committed, skilled, professional volunteers, and foresee hiring people for some duties. But local resident Nicki Steel said there are a number of people ready to volunteer. “There are many of us in the community who are passionate about this. We would be missing an incredible opportunity as a community. When are we ever going to have a building like this again? There are a lot of benefits of living in a resort area, but there are some downsides, too. I once counted eight fitness rooms in this valley that I, as a resident, am not allowed in even though most of them sit empty most of the time. If we want to attract people to the community, whether they’re young or old, this is the place we need, and we can’t let it just go by. We just can’t.”
“As long as it’s not on the tax rolls, that’s fine,” Fitzgerald said.
Steel went on to note that, since she moved to the area 40 years ago, the social fabric of the community has changed. “Everyone used to know everyone,” she said. “Now, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for people to get to know each other, and the community is less for it. I see the community center as a place where we can start to make those connections again. We need places where we can get together in a positive way. And if I have to pay something for it, it will truly improve my quality of life.”
Board member Ann Manwaring asked for a work session to review OSEC’s proposal and funding request.
“We’ll take it under advisement and get back to you,” said Fitzgerald. “I hope that’s very soon,” said Manwaring. She continued to press for the meeting, as did OSEC members. Fitzgerald said the board would consider and discuss Manwaring’s request at a later date.
“I’m uncomfortable leaving it like that,” Manwaring said. “I’d like to agree that we meet in the next two weeks.”
Fitzgerald complained that Manwaring was pressing the issue during a public meeting.
“I am,” she admitted. “I think it’s the fiduciary responsibility of this board, and we have two new members who have had no discussions about this (community center). And I think it’s about time it was discussed in public, that’s a good thing. Before, when there were contract negotiations, it couldn’t be discussed in public.”
Board members eventually agreed to hold a work session before their October 4 meeting.