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Parks dept. investigates feasibility of building senior/community center

by CJ Carnacchio

January 01, 2014

Do Oxford residents want a combination senior/community center?

That's the question township Parks/Rec. Director Ron Davis and the five-member Parks and Recreation Commission are attempting to answer.

Officials are exploring the possibility of asking taxpayers to fund construction of a senior/community center that could include amenities such as a swimming pool, two or three gymnasiums, classrooms, a fitness center, a three-lane track for walkers and runners, and office space for the parks and recreation department.

"We're just in the preliminary stages right now," said Davis, who asked residents to please refrain from "pushing the panic button about higher taxes" as nothing's been decided yet.

"I don't know if we're going to be able to do it," he continued. "We're investigating it just to see if it's a possibility. It will be the community's decision whether they want one or not."

According to Davis, the Troy-based Integrated Design Solutions, township engineer Jim Sharpe and the Ann Arbor-based Carlisle/Wortman Associates, Inc. will be working together to examine potential sites for a center, prepare a preliminary cost analysis and garner resident input via a survey.

With regard to potential sites, Davis said they're exploring possibilities ranging from purchasing property to using existing township land such as Seymour Lake or Stony Lake parks.

"Why not look at what resources you have before you go out and buy more property?" he said.

Davis said having a community center could provide his department with classrooms for activities such as hunter safety courses, martial arts lessons and painting as well as gym space for sports such as basketball, volleyball, floor hockey and indoor soccer.

"Any program that we currently run would be in there," he said. "It would be a parks and rec. facility administered by the parks and rec. commission, like our parks."

Right now, the park and rec. department utilizes gym space at the high school, middle school and four elementary schools for its programs. But Davis said scheduling conflicts with the school district make it difficult to accommodate and balance the needs of both the general public and students.

"We can't meet the demand we currently have for adult sports in the (school district's) gymnasiums," he said. "It's no one's fault. It's just the way it is."

Building a community pool would allow for swim lessons, water aerobics classes, water slides and a rental venue for birthday parties, according to Davis.

"There's a big demand now to get back into (providing) swim lessons. We have no place to offer that," he said.

The pool Davis envisions for the potential center would be a smaller "community pool" as opposed to an Olympic-sized, 50-meter lap pool, which he said is both unnecessary and more costly to maintain.

Davis said the pool could be a zero-entry type that features 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. Because it has no ladders or stairs, a zero-entry pool can be easily accessed by senior citizens, small children and disabled individuals.

Davis is hoping to fund the potential center's construction by replacing an existing tax as opposed to adding a new one.

The current levy to pay off the combination fire/library bond debt, a total of 1.65 mills, is due to expire with the December 2015 tax collection.

Davis would like the millage needed to build the potential center to be less than that amount so as not to increase the burden on taxpayers.

However, he acknowledged that some people may not be too keen on that idea.

"Maybe some people want that 1.65 (mills) back in their pocket and I understand that," Davis said.

When asked if there would need to be a separate tax to fund the center's operations, Davis replied, "We probably could fund it through user fees."

He noted that the City of Lapeer's community center offers an annual pass that allows the "unlimited use of everything" for a monthly fee. It ranges from $18.75 to $45.41 per month ($225 to $545 annually) depending on age, if it's for an individual or family, residency and whether the user pays the city income tax.

Charging user fees is not uncommon.

"That's what Troy does. Livonia and Canton, too. All these other community centers are self-supportive once you get them up and running," Davis explained.

If history is any indication, convincing Oxford voters to fund a senior/community center won't be an easy task.

In November 2006, Oxford, Addison and Orion voters were asked to approve a $9.85 million, 50,000-square-foot senior center to serve all three townships.

That bond proposal failed in all three communities. In Oxford, where the center would have been built, voters rejected it by a margin of 5,002 to 2,442.

Prior to that, Oxford voters rejected a proposed community center in September 1998. Residents were asked to approve a $17.9 million bond issue to build a 95,000-square-foot center. They were facing a 2.95-mill annual tax to pay it off over a 20-year period.

The proposal went down 1,384 to 997.

Looking back on that campaign, Davis said the plan was "too grandiose."

"It was something we didn't need."

Davis blamed the company that designed it. "They had (stuff) in there that we didn't need," he said. "It was more of an architectural 'look-what-we-did,' instead of what the community really needed."

"Practicality" is the goal this time, Davis said.

Davis believes the 1998 community center plan ultimately failed because Oxford was a different place back then.

"The community, as a whole, had different demographics. Waterstone wasn't even there," he said. "I don't think we had the numbers."

In Davis' opinion, today's Oxford has more of the types of voters who would be willing to support a community center such as families with young children and people who moved here from urbanized areas.

"When those people move out here from other communities that have (recreation centers), that's when they start asking for them," Davis said.

Folks interested in receiving information about the potential senior/community center project are encouraged to put their contact information on the sign-up sheet at the park and rec. department office (20 W. Burdick St.). They can also call (248) 628-1720) to be added to the list or e-mail the department via its website www.oxparkrec.org

"There's probably 50 to 75 people on there already," Davis said.

The Oxford Township Parks and Recreation Commission meets at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month. All meetings take place at the Oxford Veterans Memorial Civic Center (28 N. Washington St.) in downtown Oxford.