That “clunk” you heard last Monday was the sound of the Takoma Park Gym dropping to the floor like a lead basketball. The Gymnasium Feasibility Study, which might have been more aptly titled the Gymnasium INfeasibility Study, was presented at the city council meeting.
How bad is it, you ask? Not bad at all, if you have an extra five to eight million dollars lying around you’d like to hand over to the city.
You don’t have that kind of loose change, Dear Reader? Well, neither does the city. People who oversee grants and funding for the state and county already clutch their wallets and run when Mayor Porter comes into view, she says. So, funding options are few.
The feasibility study laid out the costs and issues for three options – the three best of many the consulting architectural firm explored:
• Option 1.5 (high-school size gym on the Grant Ave. side) comes in at $7,712,575,
• Option 3.2 (high-school size gym at the rear) comes in at $8,126,486, and
• Option 1.6 (elementary-school size gym on the Grant Ave. side) comes in at $5,548,885.
If you haven’t been following this, Dear Reader, the Grant Ave. and rear locations refer to sites adjoining the new Community Center. The new center was built around the old municipal building and library. Constructing a gym there was the original idea, but it grew into a multifaceted community center. Grants were procured, construction began, costs were overrun, construction of the gym postponed. Much embarrassment and political heat was generated.
In short – its a touchy point, and these cost estimates make it touchier, if not untouchable. Some councilmembers have pledged to build the gym come hell or high water. The water is now up to their chins, and hot.
Councilmember Joy Austin-Lane was quick to point out that the bare cost for the gymnasium in each of these options is around 1.5 million dollars, a cost similar to that of gyms built elsewhere in the county. The extra millions are for an underground parking garage, a “support space” (a fitness room, corridors, lockers, etc.), relocating underground utility lines, moving police holding cells, and other incidentals.
All of these incidentals might be “tweaked,” as the council and staff put it, to bring down the costs, but none seem entirely expendable.
The Liaison Committee (the citizen committee concerned with the gymnasium) was present. One member, a self-described diehard gym supporter, confessed to having “sticker-shock” after seeing the report’s figures. He was voicing the profound discouragement of many in the room.
Still, there was some optimism – more like grasping at straws. The Liaison Committee wants the city to research a forth option, one that defines what sort of gym could be built for 3.5 million dollars (the amount they think realistically could be raised – including the 1.5 million the city has currently lined up for the project).
The staff talked about lobbying for funds at the state and county level, and the council seemed game, but not too hopeful. The Mayor pointed out that the first question she will be asked is how much the city will put in. The $1.5 mil. on hand seems like chicken feed compared to the amount she’d be asking for.
In it’s adorable, muddled way the council considered what to do next. The councilmembers attempted a vote, but some were confused about just what they were voting on. It had something to so with exploring a fourth option. At one point a counclimember who shall not be named objected to councilmember William’s convoluted parsing of a statement he mistook her to make, saying “Stop, I’m going to be in granolapark again if you’re not careful!”
More importantly, the council decided to proceed with a public hearing and an information campaign to get the word out about the feasibility report, and to invite public comment and participation.
Curiously, nothing was said about a survey. Sustainable Takoma types have been harping about this, saying that a there is no credible data showing that residents want a gym. They say the packed hearings that characterized the beginning of the gymnasium movement only reflect the ability of the “usual suspects” to get a crowd out to city council meetings, and that a packed council meeting does not represent a citizen majority. The council voted on taking a survey on the matter, these nay sayers claim, but the survey has never been conducted.
If ever there was a time to show up and advocate for that survey, last Monday’s meeting was IT.