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$25.5M community center headed for ballot



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Stony Lake Township Park is the site of the proposed $25.5 million Oxford community center. (click for larger version)
March 19, 2014 - Of the 385 people who responded to a parks/rec. survey, 84.4 percent feel there's a need for a family/senior community recreation center in Oxford Township and 81.2 percent are willing to pay a 1.65-mill property tax to make it happen.

The question is how much support will it garner when put before Oxford's 14,936 registered voters?

The answer will come in the Aug. 5 primary election because township officials last week voted 7-0 to authorize Parks/Rec. Director Ron Davis and the township attorney to compose the necessary ballot language and bring it back for approval at the 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 9 meeting.

The parks and rec. department is looking to build, furnish and equip a 69,500-square-foot two-level community center with amenities for youth, adults and senior citizens in Stony Lake Twp. Park for an estimated $25.5 million.

"It's a reflection of our community," said Davis during a presentation to the township board that lasted just under an hour.

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(click for larger version)
"Everybody's going to come together under one roof . . . They're all going to interact and socialize and recreate as one."

Davis said the plan is to break ground in March 2015 and open the center in 2016.

The taxes

Voters will be asked to approve a bond issue supported by a 1.6-mill property tax levy to construct and furnish the center, plus a 0.05-mill tax for operations.

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If approved, the bond debt levy would begin with the December 2015 township tax bill and end with the December 2040 bill. The operating millage would also begin with the December 2015 tax bill and run for five years.

How to bridge the funding gap between the March 2015 ground-breaking and the first tax collection in December 2015 has not been determined, according to Davis.

The idea is for the proposed center's combined 1.65-mill levy to replace the current 1.65-mill levy that's paying off the fire department/public library bond debt.

The fire/library debt millage expires with the December 2015 tax collection. So, on that bill, Oxford taxpayers, if the proposed center is approved, would experience a 1.65-mill tax increase because they would be paying for both the old and new bond debts.

However, beginning with the December 2016 tax bill, taxpayers would only be paying the 1.65 mills for the proposed community center.

Money in, money out

According to estimates presented to the township board, it would cost $913,000 annually to operate the center. That includes $312,000 for utilities, $340,000 for center staffing, $161,000 for maintenance and $100,000 for insurance and contingency.

It's estimated the center would generate a total of $916,000 annually in revenue. That includes $46,000 from the 0.05-mill operating tax, $610,000 in resident memberships, $240,000 in nonresident memberships and $20,000 in sponsorships and advertising.

It was noted that memberships would be free for Oxford residents 65 and older. The 0.05-mill operating tax is what would make this possible.

"It's not a want. It's a need."

Over and over again during the presentation to the township board, Davis kept saying one thing about the proposed community center – "It's not a want. It's a need."

"Right now, we are not meeting the needs of the residents who are asking for programs that we can't offer because of the lack of facilities," he said.

Davis said his department runs programs in every Oxford school, except Leonard Elementary, five nights a week and it's still not enough.

"We're not meeting the demand right now for our recreation programs, both youth and adults. (Programs for) seniors, (as) you know, (are) really deficient," he said.

Township Trustee Melvin (Buck) Cryderman asked if the proposed center would replace the use of school space.

"Yes," Davis replied. "It won't be the end-all-answer-all because when you build a facility of this nature we're going to continue to grow. And I would expect to grow. Just like the communities are going to grow. If you're not growing, you're dying.

"What it will do is it will eliminate some of the pressure that we have. We can take more kids in our programs, more adults, more seniors. And open up some other avenues (where) we could bring in new programs."

A gym and indoor track

The proposed community center would include a 20,250-square-foot gymnasium divided into three multi-activity courts.

"You have to shift how you think about a gymnasium," explained Oxford resident Charles Lewis, of the Troy-based Integrated Design Solutions (IDS), a firm that specializes in architectural, engineering, design and technology services. "It's a gymnasium, yes, for basketball, but it's much, much more. It's set up so it can accommodate multiple activities either through curtains that separate (the courts) or different types of flooring."

IDS worked on the feasibility study for the proposed community center along with the Ann Arbor-based Carlisle-Wortman Associates and township engineer Jim Sharpe.

The gym could be used for sports such as basketball, volleyball, tennis, badminton, floor hockey, pickle ball, golf, archery, dodgeball and soccer. It could also be used for martial arts, Tai Chi, kick-boxing, aerobics, dance, Zumba, pilates and yoga.

"It's not limited to what we think of as a traditional wood-floor gym," Lewis noted.

Davis said three multi-activity courts are needed to meet the demand.

"We have three courts at the middle school right now (and) we can't meet the demand for boys basketball and we can't meet the girls' demand for girls basketball," he said. "Why would you build a facility with one gymnasium and still not meet the demand?"

Having three courts also gives the parks and rec. department the ability to host athletic tournaments.

A three-lane track for walkers and runners would be located above the multi-activity courts.

"It's a universal thing that I think every community center has," Lewis said.

A community pool

The plan calls for a family aquatic center consisting of an 8,000-square-foot space for a community pool, plus another 1,470 square feet for pool-related storage, equipment and office space.

"We're not talking about building another pool like (the one at) Oxford High School," Lewis explained. "This is an aquatic center. It's focused towards a very different type of activity (than competitive swimming)."

Pool features will include a water slide, lazy river, indoor spray park and a three-lane lap area.

"This is a very different pool (from the high school's)," Lewis said. "(It) will include things that appeal to children and young adults."

The pool would be universally accessible, meaning instead of having a ladder or stairs to enter and exit it, it would be a zero-entry model featuring an edge that gradually slopes from the deck into the water. The slope becomes deeper with each step like a beach leading into a body of water.

"You can roll right into the pool if you're disabled or in a wheelchair," Lewis said. "It gives you complete access for everyone to use (the) pool. You can't do that in a pool that's overall, designed for competition."

The pool's maximum depth would be 4 feet and it would be kept at a temperature of 84-plus degrees.

"A high school pool for athletics is kept much, much colder than the average person wants to swim in," Lewis said. "(A community pool is) not made so that swimmers stay cool and do their laps. It's made for activities."

Located between the pool and gym would be men's and women's locker rooms, each 1,500 square feet in size, plus a 500-square-foot family changing room.

Rooms for everything and anything

Four multipurpose community rooms, each consisting of 1,100 square feet of space, would be used for arts and crafts, scrapbooking, music lessons, tutoring, meetings, private parties, daytime programs for toddlers, day camp and fitness programs such as dance, aerobics, yoga and pilates.

"They'll be spaces that are appropriate for the programs and I think that's key," Lewis said. "We're not teaching dance in a classroom because that's all that's available. We're not having arts and crafts in a classroom where they have carpeted floors, so you're limited in what you can do. (The multipurpose rooms) are designed for those specific activities."

Something for seniors

A 1,080-square-foot "senior lifestyle center" consisting of a reception area, lounge and games area is part of the plan.

"We're going to have an active senior center that gives them more opportunities than to sit at a card table and play pinochle," Davis said. "Today's seniors want to be actively involved whether it's playing (sports) or socializing or just being physically fit. We're going to have those opportunities for them."

Davis noted a new staff member devoted exclusively to dealing with seniors would be hired for the center.

Although they will have "a space that they can call their own," Lewis said senior citizens would not be confined to it.

Seniors would have full access to the entire center and be encouraged to use all the amenities.

"Being part of the overall community center allows you interaction with everyone in the community," he said. "And it builds community just by the sense that you're in the same building together for your activities on a daily basis."

Staying fit

For those who want to exercise, a 4,250-square-foot fitness area is planned to offer cardio fitness training along with strength training and conditioning.

It will contain treadmills, elliptical trainers, stationary bikes, weight-training equipment and free weights.

"We're (currently) deficient on health and wellness programs for all ages," Davis said.

A new office for parks and rec.

The parks and recreation department would move its administrative offices into a new 1,160-square-foot space at the center.

Davis noted Oxford Village is looking to potentially sell the W. Burdick St. municipal complex that currently houses the parks/rec. offices.

"We need to get a plan in place if that should happen," he said. "It's not a want. It's a need. If we build this facility, it would only make sense to move our administrative offices there."

Community uses

The proposed community center could be used for holiday events, daddy-daughter dances, mother-son dances, adult dances, blood drives and fund-raisers.

It could also serve as an emergency relief shelter. "In case something catastrophic happens within the township, you have a place that we can go to and meet people's needs," Lewis said.

The proposed center could also be used to host seminars, trade shows, hunting and fishing shows, arts and crafts shows, job fairs, dog obedience classes and classes required by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources such as hunter safety.

Benefits for youth

"I get so frustrated hearing people say, 'Well, there's nothing to do for our teens,'" Davis said. "Well, what have we given them?"

The proposed center would give teenagers a place to socialize and interact, he said.

Lewis pointed out there was no school March 12 due to the weather. Such days pose problems for families in which both parents work.

"Where do you take your kids?" he said.

The center could be a place to go.

"They're not just sitting around or laying around (at home), watching TV alone. They're together with others, learning and being more social and active," Lewis said. "I think that's a big advantage to a lot of families."

Benefiting, not hurting, local biz

"There's been some talk that if you build this, you're going to run some businesses out of town," Davis said. "I beg to differ."

Township officials were shown a list of 27 local businesses that partner with the parks and rec. department and would benefit from the proposed community center, according to Davis. The list included golf courses, dance studios, martial arts schools, fitness places and heatlthcare-related facilities.

"These are some of the businesses that rely on us to enhance their businesses," he said. "These people have businesses in our town, but they rely on us to promote their business. What we basically do is (we) do all the registration (for classes and programs). We send the kids to them."

With a community center, Davis said these businesses would be able to run classes and programs at their establishments and/or at the center. "Those programs will only be enhanced and bring more people to our community," he said. "So, it's going to enhance those businesses."

"It will (also) create new partnerships for a lot of these smaller businesses that currently aren't thriving," he added. "They come to us, we'll help foster some relationships and make their businesses grow."

Davis noted the proposed center will not include any type of banquet facility, so it won't compete with those types of businesses.

Why Stony Lake Twp. Park?

"We looked at several sites," Davis said.

These sites, which included parks like Powell Lake and private land such as Koenig Sand & Gravel, were all rejected due to either size, lack of access to infrastructure, cost or a desire not to remove them from the tax roll.

Stony Lake Township Park with its 13 acres of land was selected for a variety of reasons.

"It's on the main drag (M-24)," Davis said. "It's easy to get to."

The facility currently isn't being used to its maximum potential, in Davis' view.

The park is only open from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend and during those three months, the parks and rec. department spends $36,000 to operate it.

With the proposed community center there, the park would be open to the public year-round. "The park would be utilized fully for all of its benefits," Davis said.

Right now, the park is open to only Oxford residents. Because of this, the township pays $12,000 annually in local, county and state property taxes on the park.

By making the proposed community center and park open to non-residents, Davis said the township would no longer be legally required to pay that, so it's a savings.

"It would be open to everybody. It would be open 365 days a year. I would envision (it would be open) from like six in the morning till ten at night," Davis said.

The proposed center would potentially be built inside the hill overlooking Stony Lake and have parking for up to 350 vehicles.

Expanding township infrastructure

Building a community center at Stony Lake Park would require the expansion of township infrastructure.

Included with the proposed center is 1,000 feet of new safety path that would complete a large loop from Stony Lake Ct., near Ray Rd., to River Crest Ct. in the Waterstone development. This would allow people to walk or ride bicycles to the center.

The proposal calls for 3,425 feet of new 16-inch water main that would run along the east side of M-24 and south side of Dunlap, then connect to an existing line on River Crest Ct. This would complete a "vital loop" in the township water system.

It also calls for an additional 700 feet of new sewer line extending north from Stony Lake Ct. to Dunlap Rd.

Lewis noted that Dick Zanotti, a representative of the Edward C. Levy Co./American Aggregates, is willing to work with the township on expanding the infrastructure because it will ultimately benefit his company's gravel mining land when it's ready to be developed for residential and/or commercial use.

"There's plans for development of the Levy site within the next five years," he said. "(Zanotti) was very optimistic that we could ultimately do something to share in the cost of extending utilities."

Sharpe noted the cost for the water main extension alone is a little over $500,000.

As far as M-24 is concerned, the proposal calls for the addition of one new south-to-north turnaround, improving the existing north-to-south turnaround at Dunlap Rd. and eliminating the existing crossover in front of the Stony Lake Park entrance, which has been identified as a safety hazard.

The infrastructure improvements are included in the $25.5 million project estimate.

"We could have stopped at the site, but we thought it would be in the best interests of the township (to extend the infrastructure beyond the center)," Davis said. "That was put on our tab, so to speak."

Any potential cost-sharing with the Levy Co. was not factored into the budget numbers presented to the township board.

Savings

Stony Lake Park is currently in need of $583,000 in capital repairs. Davis said repairs need to be made to the parking lot, boat launch, pavilion roofs, retaining walls, stairs leading to the beach, the restrooms, sidewalks, picnic tables, park benches and barbecue grills.

If the community center proposal passes, Davis said the parking lot would be redone with bond money and there would be no need to fix the retaining walls, restrooms and stairs to the beach because they would all be removed.

As for the Stony Lake pavilions, the large one would be relocated within the park while the two smaller ones would be removed and relocated to Seymour Lake Park. Davis plans to apply for a grant to pay for the two smaller ones.

Davis noted he would finally be able to apply for state grants to improve and repair the park, something he cannot do now because Stony Lake is limited to township residents only, which makes it ineligible for these funds.

Davis said the parks. and rec. department would save the $14,400 per year in rent it pays the village for office space.

The department would also save the $15,700 spent on yearly staff and maintenance at Stony Lake Park.

"You wouldn't have the gate guards (to keep non-residents out)," Davis said. "I wouldn't need a weekend supervisor. Those positions would be eliminated."

"I wouldn't have a seasonal staff there to mow the grass and pick up the trash during the week," he continued. "The seasonals would be discontinued. (The work) would just become part of the daily maintenance of that facility. And we've budgeted for that (in the center proposal)."

The township would save the aforementioned $12,000 in annual property tax payments, plus the $75,000 per year it budgets to operate the Oxford Veterans Memorial Civic Center, the current senior center.

The parks and rec. department would also save the $97,400 per year in facility rental fees that the Oxford school district has proposed charging it beginning next year.

"We just found out last week that the schools are going to start charging us to use the buildings Monday through Friday," Davis said. "So, what does that mean? Next year, our department has to budget $97,400 to use the schools."

Township Supervisor Bill Dunn said that figure "leaves a sour taste in my mouth." He asked Davis how his department would "absorb" that cost if the proposed center fails.

"That's a good question," Davis said. "I told the (parks/rec.) commission last night, right now, I don't see how we're going absorb $97,400. That's an average of $31 per person per program."

"So, you'd have to cut programs," Dunn said.

"Absolutely," Davis said "Unless you want to pay $52 to take a hunter's safety program that we're currently charging $20 (for)."

"Where we're going to make up $97,400, I have no idea," he continued. "Hopefully, the school (district) will meet with us and reconsider."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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