OPINION: Questions About Jump-and-Splash RFP

by Richard Sheir

Last week the Montpelier City Council voted to spend $30,000 to study the feasibility of constructing a clone of Claremont, New Hampshire’s Claremont Savings Bank Community Center. The Council should have saved the $30,000 and instead judge whether constructing a $10 million dollar public health club in a town of 7,500 is at all responsible. It doesn’t take $30,000 to judge using that standard. It would take perhaps thirty minutes of council time max when the facts are out on the table. These are the facts:

The Market for Such a Facility

• Claremont, NH population- 13,355   Montpelier population- 7,847 (70% more residents)

• Claremont, NH- Community Center has the only pool/fitness equipment in the area. A small weightlifters gym is also in the area as competition

• Montpelier- First In Fitness has a pool and fitness equipment and is 2.4 miles away, Planet Fitness will have 15,000 square feet of fitness equipment in the Berlin Mall and is 2.8 miles away. Montpelier already maintains an outdoor pay-for-use pool during the summer.  All three represent direct competition not present in Claremont.

The Public Cost of Constructing the Claremont Savings Bank Community Center

The Claremont Savings Bank Community Center replaced a recreation center with a pool that the community determined was no longer suiting their needs.

• The replaced center had an annual budget allocation of $500,000 a year that was transferred to the operation of their new facility.

• Montpelier’s recreation budget appropriation is $529,000. Out of that, $130,000 is used for the outdoor pool and $366,000 for summer camps. Only $62,000 could be transferred from the Recreation Center on Barre Street to a public health club unless the summer camps were ended and the outdoor pool paved over, which would free up far more for operating a health club.  More than a few in the community would object.

The Claremont Savings Bank Community Center is a $10 million dollar facility.

• The city of Claremont issued a $5,300,000 bond for the project.

• Montpelier currently is paying off $7,480,000 in general revenue bonds. Total capital indebtedness would increase by 71% if Montpelier were to choose to bond an additional $5,000,000. Maxing out the town’s bonding capacity would tie the town’s hands for well over a decade from significantly reacting to our seriously aging and crumbling infrastructure

• $5,300,000 in additional bonds to construct an elaborate health club with a pool would raise the property taxes for the average household by $111 each year for twenty years for a facility they might or might not choose to ever join.

The Claremont Savings Bank Community Center is not free to residents. Like every other health club, memberships are required. For Claremont residents, family memberships are presently $350 for a family and $250 for a single adult. Seniors are charged too. http://www.claremontnh.com/uploads/Parks%20&%20Rec/CSBCC%20Membership%20App%20Final.pdf

•The city of Claremont allocated an additional $1,000,000 to the project for consultants to work on planning, fund raising, and engineering studies

$1,000,000 in Montpelier would represent approximately 11% of the present municipal budget and would raise property tax rates accordingly for a period of one year.

The city of Claremont is on the hook for any operational deficits their center incurs. On its annual $500,000 operating subsidy, Claremont’s Community Center is presently holding its own. Were there to be operational deficits at their center, Claremont police, fire, or public works services would have to be scaled back to cover the debt. Center services would likely be curtailed as well, which would precipitate a downward revenue spiral as fewer residents would join were there fewer services offered.

A Publically Financed Health Club Offering a Second Montpelier Pool Isn’t Even a Serious Proposal

Achieving a Town Meeting plurality for a publically financed health club isn’t in any way feasible. In a town with visibly aging infrastructure, asking residents to put off much needed street and under street repairs to finance a municipal health club that replaces a local health club that went out of business for lack of paying customers would be an extraordinarily tough sell to residents who haven’t relocated to Montpelier from tony out-of-state suburbs. And that is most of us. Two and a half miles is not at all far for the Montpelier families that want to swim and exercise to do so in nearby Berlin. Many are already doing that. For those without cars, there presently is a bus to the Berlin Mall. The bus route could be easily and cheaply extended to the health club pool literally one mile away from the Mall.

The Council and the City Manager should be tending to municipal priorities that have consensus concern. They should have never caved in to a small, persistent group with loud voices.  Everyone hates our street conditions, even out-of-towners. Sadly, Montpelier’s numerous temporary patches are one of the first things out-of-towners notice when visiting friends in Montpelier neighborhoods.  $30,000 could have financed a lot of neighborhood street work.

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