Community center effort gains 'green light'

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Due to a production error, a portion of the following story was missing in this week's issue -- the ad below it was sized incorrectly, covering up some of the copy. As a result, due to the importance of this story, the full story is being run here and will be rerun in next week's issue as well.

An effort aimed at raising $600,000 to build a community recreation center in Mountain Home gained a tentative "green light" during a meeting Thursday evening.

The working group meeting of community representatives, business owners and concerned citizens focused on finding a way "to make this community a better place," said David Duro, president and chief operating officer with the Treasure Valley YMCA.

In recent years, the YMCA has worked with the Western Elmore County Recreation District to bring recreation programs to the Mountain Home area housed in a community recreation facility.

Responding to critics in the audience, Duro emphasized that last week's meeting was hosted by the Treasure Valley YMCA versus the recreation district.

While it wasn't a closed hearing, the gathering sought to gain a consensus on whether to proceed with a capital campaign.

Originally, the YMCA hoped to hold the meeting back in July, but a lack of participation promoted the organization to reschedule it for last week.

Among those attending last week's meeting were members of the Community Leadership Development Committee -- an independent, fact-finding group created by the Treasure Valley YMCA in 2009. The CLDC evaluated proposals by the recreation district to build a community center here and presented its recommendations in 2010.

For it to succeed, the capital campaign would need to raise at least $600,000. The money would tie into existing funds set aside to build the community recreation facility. If built, the 37,000-square-foot building would house two basketball courts, an indoor running track and additional space dedicated to other fitness and recreation outlets.

After three hours of discussion at last week's meeting, the Treasure Valley YMCA recommended that a capital campaign move forward. Their recommendation included the need to bring together a group of people that would form a steering group that would lead the effort and to answer a number of questions regarding the community recreation.

The ability to raise $600,000 is clearly possible, said Heather Kimmel, vice president and chief fund development officer with the YMCA. Information collected during a feasibility study conducted in April identified several individuals in the local area willing to provide various types of financial support.

In some instances, willing donors mentioned contributions ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 with others providing more specific information, Kimmel said.

Generally, the local community remains "enthusiastic" regarding a community recreation center featuring YMCA programs in Mountain Home, Kimmel said. They remained optimistic that all of the tax revenue collected over the last ten years would finally build something here.

However, Kimmel cautioned that the project's impact was not properly communicated with the local public. Those backing the initiative need to do a better job communicating what they are trying to achieve and why, she said.

In short, major questions continue to surface regarding the project's construction details as well as its day-to-day operating costs, according to Kimmel.

Meanwhile, Mayor Tom Rist raised concerns about whether or not more than a half million dollars in federal grant money would become immediately available if construction on the facility moves forward.

"Does the community need (this facility)? Absolutely," the mayor said. However, there is a lot of work that needs to happen before the capital campaign begins, he added.

Questions also surfaced at last week's meeting on how the proposed facility would interact with existing recreation and fitness providers in the Mountain Home community, including the city parks and recreation department.

In short, the local community doesn't understand the project right now, "and work is needed to communicate its impact to the community," Kimmel said.

Instead of asking whether or not the community supports the capital campaign, the real point is whether there are answers to all those unanswered questions, said John Bideganeta. Unless the YMCA and WECRD can answer them, the effort can't proceed, he added.

According to Kimmel, most people surveyed back in April said they couldn't support the capital campaign until those questions were answered. Once they get those answers, those same people would be more willing to support the effort, she emphasized.

Even without the capital campaign, building the facility is still possible but would take about two more years to complete, Duro said. It would require the recreation district to channel a majority of its budget into the building fund.

However, Brian Peterson, the recreation district's attorney, highlighted that nearly a half million dollars earmarked for the project are federal grants. The first of those grants will expire in 2015, necessitating the need to launch the fundraising effort, he said.

"There's a limited window of opportunity to act and move forward," Peterson added.

Mel Chick, president of the local Mormon community praised the effort, calling the potential recreation outlet "a great asset for this community."

The effort is worth the challenge, Hiddleston added. "The question is whether the community feels that it is worth it."

"We realize that we can't do this on our own," and the YMCA has the experience and credibility to make the effort possible, said former county commissioner Connie Cruser. "It's the only way we can make this happen."

Meanwhile, there are those in the Mountain Home community who are adamant that the effort not move forward, said John Bideganeta. Those same individuals simply want their tax dollars back versus trying to build this facility.

In some instances, those critics have tried at every opportunity to derail the effort, according to Hiddleston.

"We can continue to throw obstacles in the way or we can work these challenges," said Hiddleston as he responded to those who remain opposed to the YMCA initiative. "We have an opportunity to make a difference for our children and our community -- a chance to bring this community together."

"We can't win everyone over, but we need to give ourselves a fighting chance," Duro said. "You can not outsource community involvement."

Peterson reminded those in the audience that if the recreation center effort ends and the WECRD dissolves, people won't get their money back. Instead, that tax revenue would be divided among existing recreation outlets within the taxing district -- a one-time deal where the community would gain some benefits before the money ran out.

According to Kimmel, it'll take roughly six months to build the foundation for the capital campaign. That would also help identify those who would lead the effort and chair its different committees.

It would then take another year for the capital campaign to complete. Depending on whether it has any immediate success, that effort may take less time.

If the process were to begin soon and remain on schedule, Kimmel estimated that construction on the facility could start in 2014 with the doors of the community outlet opening a year later.

"There's a lot of work to be done," Kimmel said.

An indoor swimming pool would be part of Phase II of the project. That also would require another capital campaign and would take at least a decade after completion of the currently proposed Phase I before work on that could begin.