by Michael Bielawski
MONTPELIER – Community leaders took to the microphone before city council Wednesday evening to review preliminary plans for a new fitness center. So far, the top-prospect location in town is an old historical structure known as the Redstone property, which may be a bit of a fixer-upper. The Redstone building most recently housed the Secretary of State’s office.
The facility would have a swimming pool, probably a basketball court, potentially an indoor track, a climbing wall and other such amenities. The initial goal is to have it open by 2020.
This effort largely got started to fill the gap left when First in Fitness in Berlin closed last August.
“It was sadly missed by a lot of people,” said resident Sandra Vitzthum, one of the leaders of this project. “We gathered together starting around September and we’ve been working about seven or eight months in a very methodical way. Right now, I think there are about eight of us, we have a number of professionals with different backgrounds.”
This citizens’ group called Jump & Splash, includes an accountant, a swim-coach, an architect (Vitzthum) and other talents.
“We have entrepreneurs who all have this united vision of not just a new fitness center, but really improving health and wellness for the whole community,” she said. “We have banded together, we are in the process of forming a nonprofit. We have been mostly focused on the commitment we made to voters when we handed out a survey around November.”
One of the primary obstacles going forward is the Redstone property itself, on Terrace Street. It may need a lot of work and hence a lot of money.
“I mean it’s a beautiful old building, but I am told that it needs as much as $4 million worth of work in addition to the acquisition of the parcel,” said Mayor John Hollar … “And it doesn’t seem to fit the needs that we’ve identified for a rec-center.”
Arne McMullen, the Recreation Department Director, said the costs may not be that bad.
“My understanding is those are pretty loose numbers,” he said. “It could be as much as $1 million, it could be as much as $4 million for the property. I think it depends on what you are doing with the property and how the potential partners want to use the building.”
There wasn’t much said about another mystery building number 2.
“There’s been one other property offered that is quite attractive to us, it has some challenges as well,” said McMullen. “I don’t think we should be mentioning names outside of executive session.”
One of the key themes stressed throughout the presentation was that this project would be self-sustaining financially.
“A lot of people said that was important to them,” said Vitzthum. “And that’s kind of the underpinning of our group and we are hoping to find a sweet spot where the income can match our expenses. We have been approaching the whole project from that business plan, and we met with the city early last fall to talk about a way that we might be able to collaborate.”
Council Member Anne Watson asked why they need the city’s help.
“I’m just curious about how committed that group is to working with the city?” she asked. “If it’s financially sustainable then why do you need us?”
Vitzthum said they look at a potential partnership with the city as more of an opportunity, to make the center even better.
“This center has a real potential to be a catalyst and an energy center for all of Montpelier,” she said.
McMullen said that he believes there is demand for a community center that goes beyond Montpelier boundaries. He said for example the local swim teams could use a more local pool.
“We are quite certain that would be part of the operational sustainability of this, that there are a number of groups in the region that would draw to this,” he said.
A motion was at the end of the City Council meeting to ask for the state legislature for a delay in the sale of the Redstone building. The council asked the legislature to continue to support a feasibility study. The motion was approved.