The Western Elmore County Recreation District has finally taken a step toward building its community center, which some day may include an indoor swimming pool. Some day.
But first, Phase I of the project has to be funded. The rec district has set aside roughly $2.5 million toward the project, and has some federal HUD funds available, but the district is still going to have to raise $850,000 from the local community before it can begin construction.
That's a heavy weight to lift. A study done in 2010 showed it might be possible. Might be possible.
Initially, it will be the commitments of big donors that will carry the project. The smaller donors will be vital in the end phase of the fundraising. For big donors, the Y projects their commitments to be paid out over no more than 30 months and will generate a cash flow that will keep the project in the black during pre-construction, construction and the initial stages of getting the facility up and running.
The Y, which has been under contract to do most of the planning for this project, which will become, for all practical purposes, a YMCA facility, has been estimating revenues low and expenses high. It's a very conservative budget they've put together and one that seems pretty realistic.
But when the basic facility came in roughly a million dollars over budget, some of the extensive financial pad had to be removed. There isn't as much wiggle room as there was before.
For example, to provide fixtures, furnishing and equipment (FFE), which isn't in the current cost estimate, the district will have to wait for one more round of tax revenue to come in. That's within the timeline for opening the building in May of 2016, but just barely.
And that all assumes the bids come in as expected. Too high, and the project is in danger. If they come in low, they can add some things back into the design that they've had to cut out.
The taxpayers have been waiting a very long time for this project. The delays over the years have generated a significant, vocal opposition to the rec district in general. And that opposition probably isn't going to go away with this decision by the board, since the ultimate goal of the district is to build an indoor pool (Phase II), and that's at least a decade and a half in the future. If the timeline is followed (and critics can legitimately point to a lengthy history of timeline delays by the district), it won't be built until after children in kindergarten today have graduated from high school.
In the meantime, if Phase I is built, the rec district will use its tax dollars to subsidize a YMCA for Mountain Home.
The Y has some wonderful programs and has a lot of "scholarship" programs available to help poorer families afford membership (it's a sliding scale of assistance similar to that used for the school district's free and reduced lunch programs). The Y's involvement has always been seen as one of the pluses of the rec district's plan.
It's taken more than a decade to reach this point, but there is finally some movement.
Now, it's up to the capital campaign, and there's a lot of money to be raised in a community that just isn't particularly rich. It's possible, but dicey.
The next six months will be critical in determining if a spade will actually be turned and construction begin on Phase I next May.
-- Kelly Everitt