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Gymnauseum

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Dear Readers,

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.

- Gilbert

About the author: Gilbert

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

5 comments

  1. Seth Grimes says:

    Gilbert, when does the public recognize the prescience Sustainable Takoma and the 285 signers in their early-2005 petition opposing the city’s proposed $2.6 million borrowing for the gym?
    Proponents of 2005 borrowing claimed that it would cover the full cost of a gym (with parking, etc.) ST stated a belief, a correct belief, that costs were not understood. Indeed, with $2.6 million borrowing and the $1.5 million subsequently committed by the state and by Washington Adventist Hospital, we’d still be $1.5-$4 million short.
    The $2.6 million borrowed then to complete the community center was something like half a million short and some of the money that the city would have borrowed for a gym would likely have been diverted to the CC, leaving an even greater shortfall.

  2. Gilbert says:

    Dear Seth,
    The public needs to be reminded, it has a terrible memory, especially when it comes to someone else’s prescience.
    So, where was ST last Monday night? Seems like a crucial moment for them to show up and say “Nyah, nyah! We were prescient and YOU WEREN’T!”
    As stated in the post, if ever there was a perfect moment to step up and demand that survey ST is always talking about, last Monday was it. Where was ST?


    - Gilbert

  3. Dan Robinson says:

    Sustainable Takoma, in its heyday, made some real progress nudging the City toward fiscal responsibility, notably in questioning the ballooning expenditures on the Community Center and later pushing toward fair tax treatment on the part of the County. I wouldn’t say STers felt appreciated, but things did happen.
    You’re right, Gilbert, Monday was the perfect nyah, nyah opportunity. I know I’m sick of nyah, nyah, and I guess others are too. But I will mention something else that happened last week: an on-line survey was distributed to our local listserves concerning what people would like to see in Old Takoma, and – are you ready? – after a week 657 responses were posted. That’s huge in Takoma Park.
    In a very short time and with a $67 expenditure the survey went up. Yes, it’s only for those who have access to a computer, but it will be very useful to the business association, and, we hope, to Takoma Parkers.

  4. gilbert says:

    Dear Dan,
    You mean THIS survey?

  5. Dan Robinson says:

    Yes.

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