Since June 1991, the Saline Rec Center has provided healthy activities and opportunities for local residents. It should come as no surprise that such services have come at a cost to taxpayers. In fact, in the 25 years of its existence, the center has never been self-supporting.
Recently, problems with the roof which have plagued the center for many years became more severe, leading City Council to bring in Mays Consulting and Evaluation Services, Inc. of Ohio to suggest a solution. Company President Gary Mays said that repair costs should be about $1.2M, but in a worst-case scenario could be as high as $2.1M.
On Monday night, Saline City Council held another work meeting to discuss the next move. Prior discussion on social media suggested that some residents would rather close or sell the facility than continue to spend money on repairs.
At the meeting, Parks and Recreation Director Carla Scruggs made a case for completing the needed repairs. She started with history, recounting how the community had for many years desired a community swimming pool prior to the opportunity (through a seed gift of $1M from the Edward F. Redies Foundation) to build the Rec Center. There was much excitement and support during the capital funds drive to raise additional funds.
“When I travel around the state or I go to our state conference and talk to other people in other parks and recreation departments, Saline is very well known not only for the community – it’s loveliness, its quaintness, its historic aspect, its schools, its parks – but the Rec Center,” Scruggs said. “It’s one of the top three things that we can talk about.
She went on to say that various foundations are encouraging other communities to get what Saline already has. She believes the Rec Center is “very valuable and very worthwhile.”
Later, Scruggs noted that the Rec Center currently has 7500-8000 members and that number is growing.
And yet there is that price tag. As he had previously, Mays spoke of the need to replace the entire roof of the Rec Center, not just above the pool. Moisture leaking into the roof system had caused extensive damage.
Of course, Council discussed many details. What would it cost to borrow $2.1M? Could the city afford the debt service for the bonds? Could the cost exceed $2.1 M? Are there other sources of revenue?
Regarding the cost of borrowing, it would cost about $2.8M to $3.1M depending on whether the payment schedule is 15 or 20 years. Treasurer Mickie Jo Bennett said that the city has ample debt capacity to pay off the loan.
The cost should not exceed $2.1M and may well be limited to the $1.2M estimate. Other revenues are being explored.
Council members were also concerned about whether Mays’ recommendations would actually solve the problem. There has been a history of bad advice from prior contractors leading to the current crisis.
“The level of incompetence is very troubling.” said Mayor Brian Marl regarding past work on the building.
Mays tried to assure council members that he had a long history of solving roofing problems in buildings of this type. He said that standards that should have been followed have been around for twenty years, but they have been frequently ignored by architects.
However, Council did not need to make a final decision on the fate of the building on Monday night. Rather they were asked to consider approving two resolutions: one to authorize spending no more than $46,500 for design work and HVAC evaluation by Mays and one to authorize publication of a notice of intent for the sale of bonds to fund the repairs.
Although disagreements persisted, they were able to come to consensus on these issues. They will engage Mays to complete their evaluation and design plans. They will also start the notification process for a bond issue.
Approving the publication of notice for a bond program is not the same as approving the issuance of bonds. That fight will come further down the road.
Rather, the notification process needs to start very soon in order to make it possible to complete repairs before the next winter sets in. The roof, which has already undergone temporary repairs, is not expected to survive another winter.